West Georgia College
Studies in the Social Sciences
Issues and Perspectives
WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
STUDIES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Volume XXXI June 1993
N. Jane McCandless
Cover Courtesy of: Norma J. Schick
Women: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives
N. Jane McCandless (Volume Editor)
Volume 31 of West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences
Francis P. Conner (Series Editor)
Copyright 1993 by:
West Georgia College
Carrollton, GA 30118
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in
any form - except for brief quotation - in a review or professional
work - without permission from the publishers.
Department of Publications and Printing
West Georgia College
Women: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives
N. Jane McCandless, Editor
Myrna Cintron, Assistant Editor
Francis P. Conner ,7
N.Jane McCandless 9
When We Speak of Sex, What Are We Talking
About: The Advent of Postmodernism and the Social
Construction of Gender
Kareen RorMalone 11
Home Work: A Reassessment of Scholarship on
Homemakers and Housework With Implications
for Future Study
Meg Wilkes Karraker & Sue Hammons-Bryner 31
Harbinger of Violence: A Young Woman's First Kiss
Richard J. Alapack 51
Art of Discovery: Experiencing Kate Chopin's "The Storm"
Ellen Barker 61
Epistemology, Ethics, and Eliot: Feminine Development
Sandra S. Honaker 73
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism Without Illusions'.
One Year Later
Barbara A. Baker 91
Suzanne Clark's Sentimental Modernism: Women Writers
and the Revolution of the Word
Lisa Plummer Crafton 95
About the Authors 99
Francis P. Conner, MSW
One of the functions of the West Georgia College Studies in the
Social Sciences series is to encourage the extension and elaboration of
ideas that are in the forefront of the various social sciences. Cer-
tainly, gender issues cut across all the disciplines, and feminist
theory is having a dramatic impact on sociology, history, psychol-
ogy, and even economics as we re-think what we have been learning
and teaching. This is demonstrated clearly in this volume: Women:
Contemporary Issues and Perspectives, edited by Dr. N. Jane
McCandless, who has succeeded in bringing together a diverse
group of scholars, whose common ground is the high quality of their
This volume contains timely articles from different academic
disciplines, and like the previous volume owAmerican Popular Music,
provides a forum for a wide-ranging discussion of current issues.
From a re-assessment of home/house work, to demythologizing the
sentimentalized first kiss, to re-thinking women's writing, this
collection of articles provokes us into taking a new look at things we
thought we knew. That is no small feat for a volume of this size.
I believe the reader will find this volume offers refreshing and
thought-provoking views of gender issues, and I expect s/he will
come back and read sections of it again, from time to time. If so, its
purpose has been fulfilled.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2011 with funding from
LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation
N. Jane McCandless, Editor
While it wasn't until 1832 that Oberlin College opened its doors
to women, it has not taken as long to recognize that traditional
scholarship has excluded one half of the human population. Since
then, academics have taken the challenge to reconstruct existing
knowledge in an attempt to include women's experiences.
In 1993 we have a number of avenues for potential exploration.
We might, for example, begin to reassess existing scholarship on
women in light of yet more academic and social change. The first
author argues that feminists in the social sciences still face the task
of defining the cultural horizons of gender meanings. Thus, Malone
considers the positive effects of a postmodern perspective on gender
within the field of psychology. The authors of the second essay
suggest that the study of homemakers and housework can inform
the sociological study of change, family, gender, stratification, and
work. And, Karraker and Hammons-Bryner assess such scholarship
with an eye toward synthesizing implications for theory, research,
While the first two essays consider new direction in current
thought, the third essay attempts to fill in a gap. The evidence is
overwhelming: there exists violence against women. Battery, rape,
incest, and sexual harassment affects all women, whether directly or
indirectly. However, there is a dearth of published evidence about
adolescent kissing. And yet Alapack proposes that young women
too frequently experience an initial kiss that burdens her with shame
... nothing less than another form of heterosexual violence.
Literature too holds an understanding of women's issues. Barker
in her essay reminds us that a reading of "The Storm" challenges the
reader to take a closer look at the submerged lives of women and
understand the root causes of their subordination. More impor-
tantly, through discovery, a reading can challenge the restrictions of
a reader's social codes and lead to an awareness of a woman's stance
or to acceptance and change of mind. And Honaker, in the essay to
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 9
follow, uses five epistemological patterns to a character study of the
ethical development of the female characters in Middlemarch.
As texts will be our mark for future generations, critical reviews
are necessary. Baker, in her review of Feminism Without Illusions
believes that Fox-Genovese's work is an important book for anyone
committed to arguing the feminist case. And Crafton, in her review
of Sentimental 'Modernism: Women Writers and the Revolution of the
Word notes that Clark's work contributes to ongoing debates about
feminist criticism, canon formation, and the rhetorical nature of
It is hoped that the articles in this volume will continue in the
tradition that women's contemporary perspectives and issues are
worthy of attention. If such issues are not, then we will only be guilty
of transmitting impartial and distorted knowledge, leading yet
another generation to believe that the lives and experiences of
women are second to those of men.
And it is important to thank all of those who helped in this
project. First, the series editor, Mr. Pick Conner and the assistant
editor, Myrna Cintron. I want to thank the reviewers: Ellen Barker,
Dekalb College; Dr. Florence Cook, West Georgia College; Dr.
Marc LaFountain, West Georgia College; Cheryl Rice, West
Georgia College; and Diane Smith, West Georgia College. Thanks
also go to our department secretary, Joyce Tuttle and our student
assistants, Cathy Hardy and Connie Stapler.
10 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
When We Speak of Sex, What are
We Talking About: The Advent of
Postmodernism and the Social
Construction of Gender
Kareen Ror Malone
Over the past three years, a very successful series of advertise-
ments was run by Anheuser-Busch. In these commercials, cameos
of gender stereotypes were presented in rapid succession. The
theme of these stereotypes was the manner in which one sex baffles
and irritates the other sex. A voiceover inquired into the source of
such impossibilities within sexual difference but in the end, we were
told, "why ask why, drink Bud dry." In less than a minute we are
shifted from an incipient hermeneutics inspired by gender to the
elegant solution of fulfilled desire. The fulfillment as typically
represented in such ads is a tilting of a long neck bottle towards a
thirsty mouth. The camera modestly cuts away before we actuallv
see Bud drunk dry. Simply, in this series of advertisements, one is
offered a trajectory of gender meanings that flow from representa-
tions of an impasse that generates knowledge to an image of
realization and complementarity: a bottleneck conjoined to a mouth.
Recognizing a hovering association between the male genitalia
and the proper name, "dick" being the most frequent recipient of
this honor, I was rather intrigued by a parallel ad campaign for
Budweiser regular. These commercials featured diminutive super
men, little bustles of (need I say hard) muscle who go by the name
of Budmen. I asked a friend how tall she thought these
anthropormorphized beers were, and she replied, "oh, six to eight
inches." It is odd, in fact, that Bud is not a more prevalent double-
entendre for penis (except in Budweiser commercials). One reason
that John and Dick have served so well in this capacity is that thev
are commonplace names as in "any Tom, Dick, or Harry" and the
expression, "John Doe." Given that Bud enjoys the colloquial
signification of any old guy, it would seem plausible that its meaning
could drift to male genitalia. Perhaps it is another meaning of bud
(its botanical aspect) that precludes this semantic expansion. Per-
haps, the buds of nature are too diminutive; bud was, at one time,
vernacular for the clitoris, one of the few on record.
In suggesting that Anheuser-Busch intimates that its product,
Budweiser, is a phallocentric answer to the question of sexual
difference and desire, I am not (merely) indulging in the pleasures
12 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
of a vulgar Freudianism which would find some penile pre-occupa-
tion behind any symbolic concatenation (Gallop 1988). Rather, it is
to point out that, even within the effective but idiotic medium of
commercial television, there are nuances to the meaning of gender
that implicate sex as prototype or ritual for the project of knowledge
and representation. The ads seem to say that sexual difference is an
impasse. Accordingly, they inquire as to the nature of this impasse.
They then admonish the viewer to refrain from interpretation and
suck a Bud. Sex, in this instance, both opens and closes the cycle of
One could say that the project of feminism is exactly what
Anheuser Busch advises against - asking why. The most astonishing
question of feminism is "why is there gender at all?" We are so easily
lulled into a naturalistic view of sexuality, a view supported by the
intimate involvement of our physicality in sex, sexual difference, and
reproduction, that we often fail to grasp how radical the questioning
of sexuality and gender actually is. In a way, gender and sex are the
ultimate temptations to a naive positivism in which we ascribe to
various binaries of conceptualization, subject vs. object, nature vs.
culture, the fundamental ground of our thinking. To challenge the
binaries of sexual difference and the essentialism of gender is thus
to begin to re-think the very ground of subjectivity and cognition.
In addition to the epistemological stakes of gender, there are
cultural pressures that promote the desire to retain some domain
that remains pristine qua natural. Especially in Western history, we
have a legacy of inalienable natural rights, an economic policy
justified as the natural course of "laissez faire," and a preoccupation
with the inviolate innocence of children which we deem natural and
pre-given. We might note that society's attention to the abuse of
children is most probably overdetermined; our concern is certainly
not reflected in educational, nutritional, or child care policies. It
seems that the preserve of sexual difference in part functions to
maintain an idealized and yet supposedly unmediated category of
what is natural. The imbrication of naturalness with sexuality entails
any number of consequences; the natural association of men with
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 13
aggression, found in evolutionary fantasies of the "hunter" as well as
in any number of significations, is cross-culturally correlated with
the incidence of rape (Sanday 1990). If my speculation in this regard
is partially true then we might expect "asking why" about gender
would not only dispute the collusion of knowledge with dominant
forms of sexual relations but speak to other fundamental beliefs that
organize social relations.
Sex role plans are part of the system of meanings by
which a people explain their success, come to terms
with their fears, enshrine their past, and stamp
themselves with a sense of"peoplehood."The unique
identity people weave for themselves, the cup from
which to drink from life, mediates sexual identities.
Hence, sex roles must be viewed as an interdepen-
dent part of the logico-meaningful system that de-
fines and gives direction to a people's life (Sanday
1981, p. 163).
One could easily debate the logic of such symbolic systems within
cultures, but Sanday's overall point is well taken. Sexual identitv
does not ultimately answer to a body. Rather it situates that body
within a symbolic framework that organizes the conduct of living in
its most foundational terms. Where do these categories of man and
woman come from if we can no longer comfortably refer them to
bodies and natural function? If, in fact, gender is a pivot of the
umbrella of meanings which form the self within a culture, one must
even question what is involved when notions such as the "healthy
self esteem" are invoked in the social sciences. Western culture's
prolific repertoire of images of the self do not stand alone but are
imbricated with concurrent gender ideologies.
Conversely, of course, changes in dominant notions of gender
will impact how we imagine subjectivity, its parameters and norms.
If the frame of subjectivity answers to gender identities, we can
presume its correlate, the objective world, is equally complicit with
the field of sexuality and gender. Once gender is granted its
participation in the evolution of our ideas of the subject and object,
14 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
it is clear that sexuality, so to speak, "infects" the domain of
epistemology. As a result, we find that feminists have utilized a
number of interpretative strategies developed to subvert prevalent
epistemological paradigms - such a subversion follows from their
transformation of gender relations.
For feminists in psychology, there is a steep price to following
this path. Their feminist loyalties are no longer necessarily compat-
ible with the definition of their profession as a natural science.
Positivism, a near and dear cousin to the empiricist strain in
psychology, is one of those universalistic philosophies obliquely
supported by modes of cognition and identity that implicate tradi-
tional formations of gender. In positivism, there is a clear demarca-
tion of the subject and object and the presumption of certain
classical dichotomies, e.g. active vs. passive, form vs. matter. One
can no longer benignly assume that these attributes are indifferent
with respect to gender ideologies. In fact, one might argue that
gender is nothing but such attributions. Thus, in a way, these
enduring gender images do not reflect or sustain a body. Rather,
they reflect and sustain an epistemology. The dilemma of feminists
committed to a traditional empiricist approach, with its concomi-
tant epistemological beliefs, is apparent (Morawski 1990). Can one
just implement one's scientific practices more rigorously in order to
circumvent this implication with gender? Or are such feminists on
the cusp of a major reformulation of the operative paradigm of
psychology as a science?
To unbind the referential allure of gender and encounter its
various domains of meaning require that we treat gender in its
function as a symbol. An interpretation of gender at the symbolic
level implies not only that we see gender through the lenses of
politics, or in terms of economic and instrumental interests, but also
that we attend to the contexts in which images of gender arise. I
would call these contexts, at least in terms of the symbolics of
gender, narratives of sexual difference. Fully unfolding the meaning
of gender in any given narrative may demand that we learn to, as
Gayatri Spivak (1990) calls it, "inhabit" a text and begin to under-
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 15
stand how symbolism works without relying upon an "outside" of
Following metaphors of gender, being alert to points of ellipsis,
or simply by attending to the rhetoric of the text, feminists from a
variety of disciplines have begun to unravel a number of questions
at stake in sexual difference. It does not appear that sexual difference
answers to universal nature but rather is conditioned by history
(Laqueur 1 990). Any apparently universal quality indicated through
gender images does not harken to any originary corporeal necessity,
as in the sexual appetites of men indicating prehistoric breeding
exigencies. Rather such platitudes and images defer to certain
social/symbolic claims, such as epistemology. Thus, if a woman's
body symbolizes the plentitude of nature rather reliably throughout
Western history, we need not resort to the mechanics of reproduc-
tion and to our fantasies about their primal and definitive impact (as
in sociobiology). Instead we might examine the function of the idea
of nature in Western philosophy and in reigning attitudes about self
and world. It is in these arenas that we can most fully comprehend
what characterizations of gender reflect. 1
The cultural mandates placed upon gender cover an enormous
amount of territory, from the economic sphere and the political
arena to questions of philosophy, religion, authority, power, devel-
opmental stages, processes of cognition. Within psychology, for
instance, there is a strong division between those who would
privilege hard data over its soft counterpart. The connotation of
hard and soft as masculine and feminine respectively is, in the
United States, self-evident. A current economic expression for
being in debt, "being in the hole," once referred to the sexual act.
Upon hearing the metaphors of gender that appear in so many
discourses, we begin to realize the culture's investment in sexuality.
It is an investment that extends beyond making babies to the
question of making subjects. The extent to which gender permeates
social relations renders Freud's imputed pansexualism very meek
and mild-mannered. 2
16 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
In order to analyze the means by which gender meanings are
generated within narratives, we must, for methodological reasons,
look to the rules that govern the manner in which language, that is,
words or signifiers, combine to produce coherent meanings, create
new meanings, and censor meanings. 3 The interplay of signifiers has
been taken up as a basis of interpretation and meaning by various
schools of deconstruction, postmodernism, and Lacanian psycho-
analysis. In part, the interest of such schools is directed toward the
manner in which the operation of symbolism itself can point the way
to opening up a narrative. In part, their interest is directed towards
the undermining of the traditional Western ontology of being by
indicating its submission to the effects of language or writing. For
both of these reasons, a number of feminists have been attracted to
such approaches even if their reading of genders risks being reac-
tionary at points.
For the most part, at least within psychology, contemporary
theories on the nature of signification, with their impact upon
feminism, have been incorporated through concepts labelled
"postmodern." Although there are many components to the
postmodern approach, it appears that postmodern thinking is a
particularly astute articulation of some viable feminist strategies
within psychology and the social sciences in general. Deploying the
tools of postmodernism, feminism within psychology has inaugu-
rated the deconstruction of gender and sexuality and is moving away
from a conception of gender compatible with an universalistic
empiricism, one that is more attuned to questions of difference and
subjectivity (Allen and Baber 1992).
As with all good ideas, feminism's initial contact with
postmodernism has produced some excesses. These excesses are
starting to be addressed in the field of literary criticism and women's
studies. Psychology is not so far along in its love affair with the
postmodern paradigm. Nonetheless, there appear to me to be some
fairly significant issues that might be considered before we take
gender down the primrose path of its contextual articulations.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 17
First, we might want to conceptualize the profound effect of
symbols on subjectivity. This is where the French psychoanalyst,
Jacques Lacan began when he inquired as to the nature of the
"talking cure." In the talking cure, the therapist does not check the
references of her client's speech. She works within the weave of
language itself. By the same token, postmodernism allows us to
conceptualize the power of symbols on their own turf, not by virtue
of their reference or their subordination to a "metanarrative." The
initial question then of the marriage of psychology, feminism, and
postmodernism is an examination of the radicality of the symbol.
Secondly, a more specifically feminist question arises. This
question asks why is it that images of gender and sexuality so
frequently seep through to other symbolic systems such as econom-
ics (Foucault 1986). The vernacular of such ulterior systems seem
unable to resist sexual metaphors; the expression, "making it" is a
contemporary example of this ambiguous terrain. Are we referring
to financial success or a standard sexual practice when we use this
The two questions posed above do not constitute the only ones
that postmodernism poses to a feminist or psychological applica-
tion, but they are rather important topics. Both revolve around an
explication of the latent structural relationship between gender,
identity and representation. Clearly, if gender is dependent upon a
society's epistemological orientation, we are, in a sense, in a doubled
investigation. We must not only perceive the radicality of symbol-
ism as it impacts gender. We must equally dis-entangle how the
structure of symbolism itself is founded on the images of gender, i.e.
where does human desire interpellate itself within the processes of
symbolism and to what degree is this desire "engendered" through
sexual difference. Feminist psychologists have shown a keen aware-
ness of gender's relationship to representation in their interrogation
of the subject-object relationship. Obviously, any investigation of
representation must begin in an idea of its two fundamental terms,
ones which reach across sexual identity and the impasses of gender.
18 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Within developmental psychology, Carol Gilligan (1982) has
pursued an understanding of feminine identity that diverges sharply
from the positioning of the masculine subject. She has brought to
our attention the specious grounds of supposing that there is a
standard subjectivity that possesses universal forms of psychological
functioning. Her theory, in spite of its middle-class bias, has cast the
putatively neutered subject of psychology as most definitively mas-
culine. A masculine identity maintains certain relations to the
objective world while a feminine identity maintains other types of
relations. Postmodern thinking may take us even further into this
critique of masculinity and thus even further into the nuances of
subject-object relations (Moi 1989). Postmodernism would postu-
late there is no subject without reference to the other, no identity
without difference. In fact, this paradigm would go so far as to posit
that the concept of identity whether it is feminine or masculine has
been misconceived. Identity is a prop to withstand the effects of
difference. Both masculine and feminine identities circle around the
quagmire of identity versus difference.
Although I think that feminism in psychology is quite pleased
with the new interpretative tools provided by the deconstruction of
identity, the ideas of postmodernism, and the new emphasis on
textual analysis, I do not think we have fully come to terms with
postmodernism's uncompromising reconceptualization of the sub-
ject, including the subject that exists after emancipation. I want to
examine this subject as revealed in identity, being, and desire, and
consider identity, being and desire in the terms offered by represen-
In order to articulate the conundrum of representation as it
resides in sexual difference, I will allude to a Lacanian acrostic
presented in "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or
Reason since Freud" (Lacan 1977, p. 151). In this essay, Lacan
provides two diagrams to indicate the relationship between human
being and the signifier. The first, a variation of a Saussurian formula,
is an innocuous picture of a tree with the word "tree" appended to
it. The word, "tree" is the signifier and Lacan puts it on top of a
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 19
picture of a tree. The latter stands for the idea or the referent that
is the tree. The two terms are separated by a bar or line. You might
imagine the relationship as not confined to a correlation between a
word and an idea or a word and a thing. Instead you might consider
it as indicating the relationship between you and your name. 4 The
signifier "tree" and whatever a tree is are not intrinsically tied, a bar
separates the two. In other words, the signifier is arbitrarily im-
posed. You might have noticed this incommensurability when vou
have asked yourself, "who am I" or "what do they want of me" when
you are asked to be a man or a woman or a psychologist, i.e. whenever
you are asked to match the imputation of a signifier. It is symbolism
that introduces this line of inquiry for the human subject. It is
symbolism that gives the subject something other than herself to
become. This is a blessing in that it allows a human to change vis a
vis the elementary structures of communication. It is also a curse
because we never get where the other of the signifier has placed us.
Although the symbol tree and the actual tree are not related, it is
necessary to act as if they are. This ploy by language is especiallv
important for us humans. Let us say that for the sake of possessing
the possibility of communication, of expressing ourselves, of getting
what we need and want, that we will generally operate from the "a
tree is a tree" point of view ( Apollon 1991). The ideal or referent that
is guaranteed by an agreement in language is not essential in terms
of the world of objects. The supposition of a symbolic svstem
directly tied to referential reality is essential in terms of a prop for the
subject, the prop of identity. Can the signifier tree ever reach the real
tree? Can we ever truly be ourselves? Both of these questions are
questions of identity.
The state of affairs inflicted upon our quest for identitv is more
radically represented in Lacan's second acrostic. It depicts two plain
doors lined up side by side. Above each door sits one of two
nominations, men or ladies. These "bathroom" doors are also
separated from their respective signifiers bv an impassable bar, but
the situation is more complex. First, the doors are exactlv alike while
the distinction in signification is critical - recall, for example, the
20 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
intrepid boy claiming a sexed identity through his first solitary visit
to the men's room. Secondly, the signifiers, "men" and "ladies" do
not, in the least, refer to the doors or even to what is behind them
(which are toilets). Rather they refer to the users of the facilities. The
pictorial analogy implies that language and its structure answer to
the subject, not to the object. More accurately, in the use of language
(the facilities) the subject as well as the object is situated both within
an overriding symbolic matrix and as the vehicle of his or her
identity. 5 Further, in this diagram, the arbitrary relation between
signifier and signified becomes even more powerfully evident. To
what does a signifier refer? According to this diagram, it refers to
another signifier. What is the ladies' door? It is not the men's door
Far from there being a signified for the signifier, there is only
difference. 6 What is missing from the two bathroom doors is a place
for identity. The analogy offered by the acrostic suggests that
language is a place of difference, not of identity. To salvage an
identity out of language, we reify words. These reifications are
merely words that have been stabilized by agreement or by aleatory
processes of historical usage. Thus the status of language is a matter
of contrivance, an effect of arbitrary but necessary law. The purely
conventional source of identity, as stabilized meaning, does not
distract from our investment in it, however. People marry using
mere words, they pay X amount per hour to use words, they kill each
other in the name of this or that. Witness, as my final example, the
hyperbolic worry over public restrooms by opponents of the Equal
Bathrooms literally proclaim the capricious nature of language
that is kept under control by the law. As subjected to language, one
occupies the throne of identity (words mean what they say) through
a cultural agreement. This cultural agreement suppresses the quick-
sand of difference. In order to stabilize this fissure within symbolic
machinations, we must maintain some illusion of an identity sup-
ported by this binary of opposition, man and women. For Lacan,
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 21
this coup in language is the achievement of masculinity - making a
man out of a body.
Notice here what has transpired under the auspices of gender.
Gender is the provision of a set of fantasies that simultaneously
organizes the body and maintains certain cultural structures. Gen-
der does not answer to that body but rather to the structure of
symbolism. Identity becomes a legal contrivance, as one can surmise
through the historical and arbitrary exclusion of the other qua
woman from the public sector. The masculine trick then is to turn
the ruse of linguistic law into an achievement of a sexed identity.
Bruce Fink (1991) puts the masculine position in these terms, "Men
are wholly alienated within language" (p. 66).
This characterization of the male function is what is meant by the
often heard equation of recent French feminism that proclaims the
phallus as a fallacy; masculinity does not derive from the body, but
from a prosthetic of the body which marks our symbolic alienation/
castration. Men, insofar as they are men, are those beings whose
identities find their sustenance in the field of symbolic and cultural
effects. A phallic identification means that one occupies a certain
position in relationship to the operation of representational systems.
One buys into the veracity of such cultural systems; one defends the
(from another position) fabricated causes of the Symbolic Order
and one's ego depends on this inherently fragile cultural edifice.
More simply, the phallus is a dildo.
Mary Gergen (1992, p. 10), in her study of autobiographies of
famous men and women, finds a striking contrast in accounts of
male and female embodiment. These differences affirm the pivotal
effect of an identification with the symbolic order for masculinity:
The woman's sense of identity remains closely tied
to her physical condition. It is not so much that the
body is used instrumentally - as a means to some
other end outside the body. Rather, to be in a certain
bodily condition is to "be oneself."
Summing up the narratives of embodiment of adult
years, we find that a man's bodily self fades even
22 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
more into the background as career interests expand.
The career is typically tied to ideas and ideals, power
and prestige, and not to corporeality.
Of course, once you have left the domain of biology, being a man or
a woman is not an anatomical denotation; it is an expression of those
elementary forms of subjective identity that are congruent with our
existence in culture.
Women, as woman, assume a different position in relationship
to the representational systems of a given culture. If masculinity is
the sacrifice that guarantees the linguistic/symbolic edifice, woman
would be the fragility of that edifice. If man is a being of the word,
the so called "opposite sex" represents the moment of its failure.
What is the nature of this failure within language and its importa-
tion into images of the feminine gender?
From the point of view of language, humans are just one signifier
among many. Language, a system not accountable to being, would
just as easily speak us as be spoken by us. One might note that in
slips, arguments with intimates and in dreams, the indifference of
symbolism to consciousness is glaringly evident. To come to terms
with language allows us to find a self in the word "I" and to assume
a sense of agency. This is the fantasy of the neutral but actually
masculine subject. Otherwise an "I" is a grammatical shifter, subor-
dinate to the signifiers that follow, empty in itself.
Language as difference is an affront to singularity and agency. It
is a sliding, a wound on the edifice of identity and alien to sovereign
consciousness. When we accede to language we realize ourselves as
speaking beings but we are simultaneously condemned to
incompletion. To be incomplete means that one is lacking. We
typically think that to be lacking is in some sense to be deficient. At
the same time, to lack is a pre-condition to desire.
In the conjunction of desire and deficiency, we find the other
position bequeathed by language, the position inhabited by the
category woman. The position of desire affords femininity universal
attractiveness, regardless of the sex or sexual preference of the
admirer. Beauty, however, turns to bimbo as the connection be-
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 23
tween deficiency and desire is negotiated in narratives and images
of women. Western Civilization provides perpetual testimony to
women's imputed inferiority even while it idealizes her. The tandem
idealization and misogyny, historically covariant, (Bloch 1987) is an
oxymoronic constellation. However, it acquires a touch of clarity
when read through the impasses of representation.
Traditionally, a degree of symbolic ineptitude is attributed to the
feminine sex, an ineptitude positively correlated with the health of
her body and reproductive organs. In the nineteenth century,
medical and psychological experts argued against the widespread
admission of women to universities because of the dangers it posed
to their ovaries. Contemporary society is more subtle about such
characterizations than in the past. Still, in our continued indiffer-
ence to childcare issues which symbolically bifurcates maternity
from public life, in the insistent recuperation of a woman's body as
purely erotic in sexual harassment, in our fetishization of the smell
of a woman from feminine hygiene to perfume, we continue to re-
play positional divisions within the process of symbolizing. Woman
is body, the pre-symbolized. Man is the operative agent of cultural
The masculine solution, a working hypothesis for the public
sphere, is the illusion that identity overcomes difference. Masculine
identity is enfranchised by the Symbolic and is supposedly trustwor-
thy in relationship to it. A man's relationship to the Symbolic is such
that he must be trusted to "die for the flag." In this act, he indicates
his willingness to be that which sacrifices living being to the
perpetuation of a symbolic order. The association between mascu-
linity and death noted in the quotation below reflects the overriding
significance of the symbolic order for male identity:
If there is a basic difference between the sexes, other
than differences associated with reproductivity, it is
that women as a group have not willingly faced death
in violent conflict. This fact, perhaps more than any
other, explains why men have sometimes become
the dominant sex (Sanday, 1981, pp. 210-211).
24 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
The first reading of Sanday's observation would suggest that men
are simply more brutish - an obvious but perhaps incomplete insight
for feminist theory. Equally significant is the context of Sanday's
postulated sexual difference. She is discussing the degree to which
women will "go to battle" over the question of their rights. Such
rights are generally accorded through social/symbolic recognition.
Thus implicit to this quotation is a notable difference in the way
each sex responds to the quest for symbolic authorization. Do you
give up your "living being" for power in the Symbolic Order? I would
read this cultural valuation of death in two ways. First as an
instrumental ascendence that echoes the, so to speak, triumph of
culture over nature, i.e. we will die for the greater social order. I
would also read the privileging of dying as a testament to our
symbolic alienation; a mark of culture as the denial of the living body
and the dominance of symbolism and signifying within human
relations. It is a movement from a bio-logic to a psycho-logic and is
a most tenuous usurpation.
In order to make such claims upon being, our investment in
language must avoid the confrontation with its arbitrary founda-
tion. This is a tortuous path for that which undermines language
(difference) is also that which provides its evocative and creative
possibilities. Although we like to be "who we say we are," we would
hate for language's relation to being to come to an end in absolute
identity. Again the dualism arises: deficiency or desire. By repress-
ing difference within language, the masculine assumes a position of
agency. Language does not slide out from under this position.
Rather consciousness is in command of speech. Women's reputa-
tion as eternal gossips represents the inverse fear, that is, that one's
speech is really at the behest of the proliferation of language itself
The defect within symbolism thus appears at the point of differ-
Linked to the attribution of a defect is the feminine's association
with desire. As defective and desirable, the feminine is associated
with difference. Difference is never ending; one is never done; there
is always something more. Thus, stitched into the nature of lan-
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 25
guage is the origin of a specifically human desire. As difference,
woman becomes the chaste and unattainable, the ideal. She is the
surplus of language, hidden behind its veil. As ideal, of course, the
woman plays out the triad of desire, difference, and idealization. 8
Equally probable, woman is characterized as uncontrollably rapa-
cious, deep inside a slut. Here the lack in the symbolic order reveals
its chaotic core (within the structure of phallocentric fantasy). In
either case, it is woman as a category that mediates the transforma-
tion of difference into desire.
Obviously, as two sides in the impasses of representation, woman
and man are each other's weaknesses, with the latter, by any
definition possessing the most power. At the same time, paradoxi-
cally, the feminine possesses the greatest threat. As ideal categories,
one sex possess the Symbolic power, that is authority, while the
other exposes the lack that undergirds that authority. This is one of
the most terrifying complementaries within phallocentric cultures.
Thus, once we factor in the role of gender in structuring represen-
tation, the agenda for liberation becomes exceeding complex.
This project is complicated by the fact that gender not only
imprints logistical difficulties within symbolizing, it provides its
own quaint solutions. We saw the structure of sexual impasse
resolved by sexuality itself in the banal imagination of Anheuser-
Busch. In order to encounter difference within the domain of its
incarnation, we counter the impossibility of sexuality (as an effect of
signifying) in terms of the desire to be one. In this manner, we
overcome the question of difference within language insofar as its
threatens identity (being one). Having sex for ontological reasons
spawns an array of sexual images. I will name two. The abyss of the
cleavage is answered by the ample plentitude ot the breasts that
provide its occasion. Both are attractive. On the other side, there is
the absolutely terrifying triad of penis, qua gun, qua enforcer that re-
enacts the violence of culture and its imposition of law.
When I discuss signifiers of gender, I am not unraveling various
socially conditioned symbolizations of sexual difference. One can
understand these types of signifiers of woman as serving ulterior
26 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
ends like the economic exploitation of women. Such ulterior ends
are operative; there is no question on this point. However, I want to
draw your attention to a very particular function of gender, a
function that accounts for the pervasiveness of its imagery in every
relationship of social mediation. In other words, we can't be social-
ized without first being symbolized. Further, since symbolizing
actually always involves difference, not an identity, gender is already
wrapped in the process of symbolization before it is called upon to
hold up given social relationships.
If we accord a degree of priority to the symbolics of gender then
we must examine the role sexual difference plays in the processes of
representation. We must acknowledge that symbolizing is not
neutral but always learned through sexual difference. In this odd
ritual of representation and gender, man and woman occupy histori-
cally inscribed positions which answer to the nature of the subject
itself. Identity with the Symbolic Order is man's frail support for his
existence. The category imagined as woman escapes the symbolic
directive but denies her any number of social privileges. Thus, at
some level, woman incarnates the limits of our representational
efforts; more radically, the position of the feminine presents the
limit of masculine existence (as misogynists like to tell us). Is man,
as Slavoj Zizek (1991) playfully suggests, a woman who thinks she
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 27
1 I am not implying here, however, that the body does not offer resistance, but
rather that we know the body as a resistance to the Symbolic not in and of itself.
When looking at gender as a symbol, the body is not the source but the vehicle
of a meaning.
2 Feminists of the postmodern persuasion within psychology have been
reluctant to entertain a Freudian contribution to their efforts. This reluctance is
maintained despite what I perceive as Freud's utility and the shared territories of
the two inquiries: 1) pansexualism, with an equal tendency to expand the notion
of sexuality and/or to get reductionistic about it. 2) gender as an imposition; for
Freud we take up gender in the guise of a threat or as a deprivation (paraphrased
from Lacan 1977a). 3) a relationship between gender and representation. At this
time the joint venture between psychoanalysis and feminism -for feminists in
psychology - has been carried out through object-relations theory. The aversion
to Freud proper may be attributable to America's rendition of Freud that portrays
him as brazenly reductionistic. This is an unfortunate trend in American
psychology. In Europe, Freud has been very fruitfully employed in the service of
feminism for nearly two decades.
3 Lacanian thinking, for example, highlights the role of punctuation in
determining meaning. In a sentence, each word awaits its successor and the
finality of punctuation to attain its complete meaning. Thus meaning, insofar as
it depends upon the processes of language, is never pinned down absolutely. We
can always re-punctuate or re-open any chain of signifiers if significance is onlv
granted retroactively. This intervention of language upon human existence is a
great boon to therapists but the indeterminacy it implies is not the road to
ontological security. The latter difficulty is, as I will suggest later, taken up in the
construction of gender.
More important for a symbolic interpretation of gender is the axis of
metaphor. Metaphor is simply the substitution of one word for another. Through
substitution, different networks of signifiers are spliced together allowing for new
meaning. In the same movement, a word and its context can be suppressed as the
new substitution gains ascendence as a literal meaning. A metaphor is not merelv
ornamental. One can reasonably argue that language builds itself through the
process of metaphoric substitution.
4 In fact, we answer better to our signifiers than do most trees, but that is
28 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
5 This is commonplace knowledge in a therapeutic listening to narrative. One
does not take the client utterances in terms of objective reality alone but equally
one must be attuned to the psychic world that is being narrated.
6 A binary opposition is the maximum degree of identity that can be imposed
upon this scene. We recognize this stabilization in the permeations around what
we call the opposite sexes.
7 Thus when feminism attempts to articulate feminine empowerment, it must
navigate within the tricky dynamics of identity, difference, agency, and their
enchained associations with one gender or another.
8 In Greece of course, young "passive" boys got the call and the gender-
representation complex was more splintered although the association with
passive appears rather unshakable.
Allen, Katherine ocBaber, Kristine, 1992. "Ethical and Epistemological Tensions
in Applying a Postmodern Perspective to Feminist Research." Psychology of
Women Quarterly 16:1-15.
Apollon, William, 1991. "Theory 6c Practice in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of
Psychosis," Pp.1 16-142 in Ragland- Sullivan ScBracher (eds.), Lacan &the
Subject of Language. London: Routledge.
Block, Howard, 1987. Medeival Misogyny." Representations, 20:1-17.
Fink, Bruce, 1991. ""There's no such thing as a Sexual Relationship': Existence
and the Formulas of Sexuation." Newsletter of the Freudian Field 5:59-85.
Foucault, Michael, 1986. The Care of the Self: Volume Three of the History of
Sexuality. Robert Hurley (trans.), N.Y.: Pantheon.
Gallop, Jane, 1988. Thinking Through the Body. N.Y.:Columbia University Press.
Gergen, Mary, 1992. "Socially Constructing the Body in Popular Autobiography."
Presentation for the American Psychological Association, Washington,
Gilligan, Carol, 1982. In A Different Voice. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University
Lacan, Jacques, 1977. "The agency of the letter in the unconscious or reason since
Freud." Pp. 146-178 in Alan Sheridan (trans.), Ecrits: A Selection. New
York: W.W. Norton & Company.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 29
Lacan, Jacques, 1977a. "The Signification of the Phallus" Pp. 281-291 in Alan
Sheridan (trans.), Ecrits: A Selection. New York: W.W. Norton.
Laqueur, Thomas, 1990. Making Sex. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University
Morawski, Jill, 1990. "Toward the Unimagined: Feminism 6c Epistemology in
Psychology" Pp. 150-183 in Hare-Mustin ocMarecek (eds.), Making A
Difference. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Moi,Toril, 1989. "Patriarchal Thought 8c the Drive for Knowledge" Pp. 189-205
in Teresa Brennan (ed.), Between Feminism & Psychoanalysis. London:
Ragland- Sullivan, Ellie, 1991. "The Sexual Masquerade: A Lacanian Theory of
Sexual Difference." Pp. 49-82 in Ellie Ragland- Sullivan 8c Mark Bracher
(eds), Lacan & the Subject of Language. New York: Routledge.
Sanday, Peggy, 1981. Female Power and Male Dominance. New York: Cambridge
Sanday, Peggy, 1990. Fraternity Gang Rape. New York: New York University
Spivak, Gayatri, 1989. "Feminism 6c Deconstruction: Negotiating with
Unacknowledged Masculinism," Pp. 206-225 Teresa Brennan (ed.), Between
Feminism & Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.
Zizek, Slavoj, 1991. "The Truth Arises from Misrecognition." Pp. 188-212 in
Ellie Ragland- Sullivan 6c Mark Bracher (eds), Lacan dif the Subject of
Language. New York: Routledge.
30 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Homework: A Reassessment of
Scholarship on Homemakers and
Housework with Implications
for Future Study
Meg Wilkes Karraker &
Except for a brief burst of interest during the early 1970s (for
example, Lopata 1971; Oakley 1974), housework and homemakers
have received little attention in sociology. In view of the continuing
decline in the number of married women who are full-time home-
makers, 1 such a low level of interest may not seem surprising. This
situation is unfortunate, however, when we consider the extent to
which the study of homemakers and housework can inform the
sociological study of change, family, gender, stratification, and
In this paper we assess the state of scholarship regarding women
who pursue domestic work in their homes (i.e., homemakers) with
an eye toward synthesizing implications for theory, research, and
teaching. We categorize the literature on homemakers and house-
work into six areas:
The changing status of homemakers
The increased role conflict of homemakers
The social psychology of homemaking
Job characteristics of housework
The importance of class, ethnicity, and race
In addition, literature exists regarding the history of homemaking
(e.g., Sklar 1973; Strasser 1982); domestic service occupations (e.g.,
Auman and Conry 1985; Wrigley 1991); and on men whose
primary occupation is homemaking (e.g., Klauda 1991). These
bodies of literature are not the focus of our paper.
The Changing Status of Homemakers
Although many women are full-time homemakers during some
portion of their lives — usually at the beginning of their childbearing
years and during the retirement years — the proportion of women
engaged in full-time homemaking continues to decline as more
women become employed. This decline is especially dramatic
among married women: the percentage of married women in the
labor force has risen from 12.3 in 1960 to 30.5 in 1988 (U. S.
Department of Commerce 1991b).
32 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Researchers have ignored or discounted the changing social
position of homemakers. One reason for this disregard is that full-
time, exclusive homemakers in American society do not fit into
standard indexes of occupational prestige. The job characteristics of
housework are similar to those of other occupations, which usually
are low in prestige and most notably include private household and
other service work. One can argue that some of the job character-
istics of home work parallel those of higher-prestige occupations,
including teachers, managers, and artists.
Further complicating the discussion of homemakers' status is the
complexity of their socioeconomic status, as generally defined.
Acker (1973) addresses these issues in her article as assumptions
about women and stratification. Although we agree with Acker's
criticisms of the sociology of stratification, the assumptions (e.g.,
that the family's social position is determined by that of the male
head of the household) draw attention to the reality that homemak-
ers may be members of a household or family from any social
How can social status be assigned to homemakers with some
degree of accuracy? The composite social status and social role
configuration of the full-time homemaker wife of the professional
is clearly different from that of the single mother who has decided
to pursue higher education while maintaining a household. An
individual's entire social status (and esteem) is closely tied not only
to household wealth but to personally earned income. In the case of
women whose occupation is exclusively homemaking, that earned
income is zero. The absence of nondependent entitlement to
pensions and social security is yet another indicator of depreciated
A desire for higher general social status and esteem, as well as a
desire for higher economic status, can motivate a woman to exit a
full-time, exclusive homemaker role. Throughout this paper we will
quote from an ethnographic study conducted by Hammons-Bryner
(1991) at "Rural College." "Denise," one subject in that study,
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 33
expressed this aspiration poignantly as she reflected on receiving the
most prestigious academic award at "Rural College":
You don't get awards keeping house. ..I
wanted a separate identity from wife and
mother. I wanted something for me, apart
from my family (Hammons-Bryner 1991,
We are struck by the distance which our discipline has not come
since Acker's criticisms two decades ago. Our review of the chang-
ing status of homemakers suggests that fruitful theoretical and
methodological work could begin by focusing on two areas: (1) the
impact of the changing status of homemakers on identity, especially
esteem, formation and (2) the conceptualization of social status for
The Increased Role Conflict of Homemakers
The role sets of women occupying the homemaking role are
remarkably diverse. Yet at a time when even Blondie has embarked
on a career (Young and Drake 1991), sociologists seem slow to
follow the popular media in examining either the lives of women
who have exited full-time homemaking for careers or those of
women who have elected to pursue full-time homemaking instead
of the professional careers for which they were trained (e.g., Ehlert
The women studied by Lopata (1971) in the Chicago area in the
1960s and by Oakley (1974) in England in the 1970s were faced
with the difficult choice between employment and homemaking.
Yet because of the dramatic increases in the number of married
women who are employed, especially the number of emploved
women with children, the role conflict inherent in the lives of
women balancing home work with outside roles touches a greater
proportion of women now than ever before. Not onlv are emploved
homemakers experiencing such role conflict but the increasing
numbers of women entering higher education after marriage and/
34 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
or the arrival of children are experiencing role conflict as well. For
such women, establishing priorities often means
no time for home work, no time for kids,
no time for the house, clothes stacked
to the ceiling... I might be able to let
my housework slide for a little while
because if the kids need me worse, that's
what I have to do (Hammons-Bryner 1991,
For such a meager reward, women juggling home, school, or work
pay a high cost in deferred or missed educational achievement and
A significant number of women (and men) feel strongly that at
the least, mothers should care for young children in the home. In the
words of "Toni," a nineteen-year-old woman attending "Rural
I disagree with leaving babies with
a caretaker. I will go back to work
[after having a baby], but the first
year of a child's life [is] one of the
most precious. I do want to be there
to see the first steps and hear the
first words. I would feel cheated if
I were not there (Hammons-Bryner 1991,
Younger women hold two beliefs: 1) the best child care provider
is the mother in the home and 2) participation in child care is among
the rewards to which women feel they are entitled. Although Toni
plans to work outside the home, she adheres to that most basic
element of a patriarchal system: the sex-typing of child care respon-
sibilities and an ideology which has succeeded in persuading women
that remaining at home is a sex-typed right.
Toni almost certainly underestimates the cumulative conse-
quences of her decision for her occupational status attainment over
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 35
her lifetime, but she recognizes the price in family stress and role
I realize that having two working parents
in a household is somewhat of a challenge,
but I feel that everything worth having is
worth a little effort (Hammons-Bryner
1991, p. 155).
Toni and other women like her appear to assume that "each
person [in a marriage] must make sacrifices and compromise"
(Hammons-Bryner 1991, p. 155), but they rarely evaluate the
balance of those sacrifices. Whenever Toni refers to specific sacri-
fices, they are all made by women. She does not mention any
possible sacrifices by men.
A woman's employment status is the most accurate predictor of
the amount of time she spends on housework (Berardo et al., 1987).
A husband's participation in household tasks increases somewhat
with his wife's income (Nyquist et al. 1985), but a wife's emplov-
ment has little effect on the division of labor in the home (Broman
1988; Maret and Finlay 1984). Describing this situation as "the
second shift," Hochschild (1992) writes that the exodus of women
from the home to the workplace has not been accompanied by a new
view of marriage and work which would ease this transition. Most
workplaces have remained inflexible in the face of the changing
needs of workers (female as well as male) with families. Further,
most men have yet to adapt to the changes in women's roles.
Hochschild cites the disparity between the change in women's roles
and the absence of change elsewhere in society as a case of profound
Study of productivity has a long tradition in the sociology of work
(see, for example, Miller 1981; Tausky 1978), most notably begin-
ning with the Hawthorne Studies (Mayo 1933) and continuing
with the current heated discussions of American versus Japanese
workers ("Are We Really That Lazy?" 1992). Housework, however,
appears to have been exempted from scholarly consideration of the
quality of work performance.
36 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Women of the 1990s, in contrast, are aware of variations in the
quality of housework performance. Comparisons with the stan-
dards set by their mothers appear to be particularly invidious. In the
1990s, while juggling higher education, employment, child rearing,
and housework, the daughters often feel that they do not come close
to the previous generation's quality of performance. In the words of
Denise, whose mother was a meticulous housekeeper,
I'm busy with my son [who has cystic
fibrosis] from the time he gets out
of school until 8:00 p.m. Then I start
[her emphasis] on supper (Hammons-
Bryner 1991, p. 74).
This review has sensitized us to the need for more research on the
different processes through which women enter and exit the home-
making role and the conflicts homemakers experience concerning
homemaking tasks (especially child care and housekeeping stan-
dards). The mechanisms through which women manage conflicts
(and dissonance) as they make role shifts and as they manage these
conflicts would be of particular interest, even beyond the study of
The Social Psychology of Homemaking
Gove and Tudor (1973) reported that women's traditional role
(that is, as homemaker) contributes to the higher rate of certain
types of mental illness among women. Additional research has
focused on personality traits (e.g., Erdwins, Tver, and Mellinger
1980), employment attitudes (e.g., Stake and Rogers 1989), and
political opinions (e.g., Andersen and Cook 1985).
Although women may believe that their work is important,
research shows that women (both working-class and middle-class)
find housework itself unsatisfying (Hochschild 1992). As the pro-
portion of women electing the role of full-time homemaker de-
clines, the devaluation of this work continues. Commercial house-
keeping and child care services continue to grow, but offer substan-
dard wages to their employees. Furthermore, the popular typifica-
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 37
tions of homemaking tasks as boring and trivial has rendered
homemaking a topic to be ignored by social psychologists.
The denigration of home work parallels the denigration of the
work of volunteers and the retired in American society. Those who
do not earn wages may be perceived as sitting at home and doing
nothing. This image contrasts with the very real "leisure gap" that
exists for women who work one shift at a place of paid employment
and a "second shift" at home (Hochschild 1992).
The cultural context contributes to higher rates of certain types
of mental illness among homemakers. We suspect that the trend
toward fewer full-time homemakers has only exacerbated negative
attitudes toward homemaking and has increased the negative social
psychological consequences for homemakers. We suspect that
because of continuing societal ambivalence regarding women's
proper role priorities inside and outside the home, both the women
who pursue homemaking and those who pursue employment full-
time are likely to be defined as deviant, depending on the situation.
Full-time homemakers are deviant because they labor at tasks that
are perceived as boring, repetitive, and unimportant and they do so
without pay! Employed women are deviant because they labor for
money instead of for the love of their families.
Because of the extent to which homemaking is increasingly a
statistically atypical pursuit, social construction of the identity of a
person who chooses or otherwise occupies such a role merits further
research. For example, we wonder how homemakers compare to
other women and to men on alienation, happiness, self-esteem, and
other social psychological characteristics. Perhaps insights from the
sociology of deviance apply here.
In a similar vein, we would like to see more research on the impact
of the homemaker role on the quality of life in families of women
occupying that role. As noted earlier, the movement of women from
the home to the workplace has not been accompanied by a new view
of the links between work and family. How do families cope with the
structural strain resulting from workplaces that have failed to
respond to changes in women's roles? We might surmise that
38 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
women who are employed part-time have the most satisfied fami-
lies. We speculate that only the unavailability of interesting, hon-
ored, secure, well-paid part-time work has limited women's election
of this option.
Job Characteristics of Housework
In response to criticisms that sociologists have failed to consider
women's labor at home as work, some sociologists have extended
conceptualizations of work to include housework. Although this
area includes some rather tedious statistics on (for example) who
uses the microwave oven (Oropesa 1991), some of the research
promises to link the more physical dimensions of the homemaker's
job to social and psychological functioning (e.g., Reisine, Goodenow,
and Grady 1987).
Surely certain classic conceptualizations about other jobs could
be extended to women's work at home. Durkheim's ( 1964)
research on division of labor, Marx's ( 1960) on alienation,
Douglass's (1990) on slavery, and Parkinson's (1962) on the
links between work and time are untapped sources of illumination
of the social structure of women's work at home. The failure of
sociologists to apply concepts from Durkheim, Marx, Douglass,
Parkinson, and others illustrates our contention that a double
standard applies to the employment of sociological concepts to
explain the world of men and the world of women. A similar
complaint has been raised by others, including Bernard (1981).
Durkheim, for example, posits that increased specialization
accompanies societal change. Yet even as the self-sufficiency of
American families evaporates, American society holds to the ideal
of the wife/mother who does all tasks well, with no subcontracting
Marx argues that workers who repetitively perform routine task
segments suffer from alienation. Yet just as women are glorified in
American society for sacrificing for their families, they are casti-
gated if they rebel against being caught in the assembly line of cook,
clean, and cook again. 2 This arrangement is a peculiar variety of false
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 39
consciousness, but it certainly benefits a capitalistic economic
system and bolsters a patriarchal family system.
Passive resistance, a concept drawn from studies of slavery, mav
be applicable to theorizing about homemakers. Women may set
artificially high standards for housework tasks as a mechanism to
avoid further work. A woman scrubbing a floor is obviously busy and
may be less likely to be interrupted by a family member to perform
another task. Some full-time homemakers may choose to perform
most major cleaning tasks in the presence of their husbands, with
the implication that work not seen is work not appreciated. If he
does not comment, she may call it to his attention.
Parkinson (1962) maintained that work expands to fill the time
allotted to complete it. Although "Parkinson's Law" offers one
explanation for the reduction in average hours spent in housework
by employed women, an alternative explanation may be that re-
duced hours result from greater efficiency or lesser effectiveness (for
example, lower standards of cleanliness). This result would seem to
be associated with working outside the home; a woman would have
to organize her time better. That is, it is not an alternative to
Parkinson's Law but a corollary: less time is available for housework.
Employed women use cleaning and laundry services more often,
place their children in child care institutions earlier and more often,
rely more heavily on convenience foods, and dine out more often
than full-time homemakers. Critics may blame social problems on
women's reduced commitment to the home and homemaking, and
particularly on outside child care. We are struck by the extent to
which distasteful, low-skill, repetitive tasks (which might be viewed
as "make-work" and which are targets for streamlining, elimination,
or contracting out in bureaucratic organizations) are elevated to
sacred rites 3 in women's home work.
The Importance of Class, Ethnicity, and Race
Conspicuously absent from the literature on homemakers is
scholarship that acknowledges the diversity among homemakers bv
class, ethnicity, or race. Although social science research and literarv
40 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
collections have included some discussion of women of color as
domestic servants (for example, Anonymous 1972), our initial
impression is that in homemaking, as in other areas, social class,
ethnic, and race differences have been largely ignored.
Race is an important factor in self-definitions of femininity and
in self-valuation of gender-appropriate role behavior. For example,
stereotypical division of family roles appears to be more likely in
white families than in African-American families (Broman 1988;
Maret and Finlay 1984; Taylor et al. 1991). Both popular writers
and social scientists emphasize the difference in roles that black and
white women have played in society and in their families (Karraker
1989). In the words of a black clinical psychologist,
The traditional role does not exist for
the black woman. Historically, the black
woman has been prepared to assume a
responsibility the white woman has not...
Accounting for some of the nontraditional
behavior may be an internalization of the
necessity to provide for her family...
(Gump 1978, p. 351).
Black women's self-definition (including their definitions of
femininity) reflects a past of economic insecurity, a historic reliance
of black families and communities on women's labor and leadership,
and the dominant society's prejudices and expectations regarding
black women (Collins 1986; Karraker 1989). Black women may see
less conflict than white women in being independent, self-reliant,
and work-oriented as well as compassionate, nurturant, and sensi-
tive (Weitzman 1984).
Black wives are more likely than white wives to expect and accept
employment (Macke 1982; Scanzoni 1977). The concept of an-
drogyny (little studied concerning racial differences; see Cook
1985) may define the apparent contradictions in the character of
black women's gender roles and their success at performing multiple
roles with less conflict than their white counterparts (Karraker
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 41
Billingsley (1968), Engram (1980), Gurin and Gaylord (1976),
and Pinkney (1975) contend that black Americans are a subsystem
of the larger society: they are subject to the same expectations but
face additional obstacles in achieving those expectations. In other
words, these writers argue that social class position, not race,
determines differences in social roles (Karraker 1989). Some re-
search among white ethnics supports the contention that race
differences in gender-role orientation diminish with movement
into the middle class (Howe 1976; Lopreato 1970). Given the
recent debate over the "significance of race" (Wilson 1987), we
would like to see more research on this intersection between class
and ethnicity. We note that black feminist sociology has been
particularly influential in focusing attention on the "intersections of
multiple structures of domination" (Collins 1986, p. S19).
Like nonwhite women, the homemaker who loses financial
support (through divorce, separation, desertion, or her spouse's
death or disability) has received little attention from sociologists.
(For an exception, see Crossman and Edmonson 1985.)
The number of displaced homemakers (15.6 million in 1989)
grows by 200,000 each year, according to the National Displaced
Homemakers Network, a Washington-based lobbying and activist
organization. Among widowed and divorced women, fifty-seven
percent are poor or nearly poor. Cheryl Henderson, head of the
Network, warns that "homemaking is becoming a high-risk occu-
pation"; 22 million married homemakers risk displacement if their
husbands die or divorce them (Eskey 1990, p. 1J). Only a man stands
between the full-time homemaker and poverty.
Forty-five percent of displaced homemakers have less than a
high school education; they need education, job training, and
housing to be economically self-sufficient (Eskev 1990). These
homemakers and their families are at particular risk for downward
mobility and poverty. Even women with higher education share
these economic risks, should they become displaced. Yet because of
42 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
the persistence of wage inequity 4 , even women who have remained
employed during their marriages are likely to experience relative, if
not absolute, deprivation.
In a study of the role of resources in displaced homemakers'
assumption of the provider role, Crossman and Edmondson (1985,
p. 465) found that "past employment experience did not preclude
displacement." Certainly, understanding of both the antecedents
and the consequences of displacement would benefit from addi-
Study of the social worlds of men whose primary occupation is
homemaking can sharpen awareness of several important issues,
although this topic is not the focus of our paper. Male homemakers
come to the role in a variety of ways. Some men increase their
homemaking responsibilities after the end of a relationship in which
another person filled the role expectations of the homemaker. In a
series of articles on single men, Klauda (1991) reports that single
men are more likely than single women to live in dependent
relationships. 5 One man says he "had always left the cooking,
cleaning, and bill-paying to his wife" (Klauda 1991, p. 14A). After
his divorce, he moved in with a male friend and stayed there in
exchange for cleaning the friend's house. In a later arrangement, the
same man moved in with his girlfriend and assumed responsibilities
for cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Other men become homemak-
ers after unemployment or retirement. The variety of avenues to
homemaking for men can focus attention on the heterogeneity
among homemakers (including different role expectations, role
performance, and social psychological adjustment).
Most important the comparison and the contrast between female
and male homemakers provide an excellent opportunity to examine
the social construction of homemaking. In the 1980s movie Mr.
Mom, one of the comic scenes revolves around the predicament in
which the protagonist, played by Michael Keaton: he finds his
friendships and fills his leisure time (by playing cards) with the only
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 43
other adults at home during the day — all women. The ridicule
directed toward men who do housework has two outcomes: 1) the
social control of men and 2) the denigration of the work. The latter
has far-reaching consequences for both the social construction of
housework and the formation of self-esteem among women who
engage in this work. The image of men doing housework (Dagwood
wearing an apron, for example) is amusing precisely because house-
work is something that only women do.
With its stereotyped connections to femininity (and
unmasculinity) and to exclusively same-sex networks of social
relations, homemaking provides sociologists with a means of exam-
ining sexuality, friendship, group dynamics, and the extent to which
the social organization of work is gendered in postmodern society.
In that regard, we conclude, the sociology of home work (and much
other work as well) should be viewed through a gender model, not
through the traditional job model 6 .
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meetings of the
Midwest Sociological Society, April 3, 1992, Kansas City, Missouri.
The authors share equal responsibility for this work, order of authorship is
arvitrary. Please direct correspondence to Hammons-Bryner.
1 The percentage of women who are full-time homemakers — that is, those
who are not in the labor force — decreased from 68.1 percent in 1960 to 42.2
percent in 1989 (U. S. Department of Commerce 1991a).
2 Note such movies as "Woman under the Influence" and, more recently,
"Thelma and Louise." Also, in the election of 1992, great media attention was
devoted to "family values," and the cookie-baking skills of the wives of the
3 To extend the metaphor, we recall a quotation from comedian Roseanne
Barr Arnold: "I hate to be called a homemaker; I prefer 'domestic goddess.'"
44 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
4 As of March 1990, the median annual income of women working year-round
full-time was $18,778, 68 percent of men's median annual earnings of $27,430
(U.S. Department of Commerce 1991c).
5 One of seven single men age twenty- five and older is living in a dependent
relationship, compared to one often single women of that age (Klauda 1991).
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STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 49
WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Harbinger of Violence:
A Young Woman's First Kiss
When is violence in heterosexual adolescent relationships first
encountered? When does the young female initially face sexual
alienation in her interactions with males, or experience incipient
victimhood? At what place does it become evident, experientially,
that males (mis)understand her as a sexual object, someone to be
'taken'? The purpose of this report is to demonstrate that one place
at which it happens is during the touch of her first 'real' adolescent
Context of the Research
This study emerged out of a comprehensive, phenomenologi-
cally oriented research project on adolescent relationships which has
included studies of Adolescent First Love (Alapack 1984b), the
Outlaw Relationship (Alapack 1975), Leaving Home (Alapack
1984a), and the Adolescent First Kiss (Alapack 1991). The finding
of the First Kiss study promoted further inquiry into the incipient
violence of the way it takes place. This study reports the results of
a descriptive, qualitative pursuit of that theme.
Since a phenomenologically oriented human scientific approach
provides the conceptual foundation of this study, the method
employed is descriptive/qualitative. In an attempt to get the story
'out of the horses' mouths', written protocols were gathered from
fifty-seven females who responded to the following stimulus: "De-
scribe your first 'real' adolescent kiss, the one which was not just a
'peck'." The subjects included eleven adolescents who were sixteen
years old, twenty-seven first year college students and nine graduate
students. Of the total number of respondents, twelve wrote narra-
tives spliced with alienation or violence. Five of those agreed to
cooperate in a qualitative research interview so that the written
sketch of their experience might be elaborated and amplified. The
average length of the interviews was ninety minutes.
52 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
By the time the young woman anticipates or confronts her first
kiss predicament she shows the effects of socialization along gender
lines. Alarmingly, she is already oriented toward abuse. Already she
has found herself blushing in the presence of the other-gendered
person, often in response to sounds of 'wolf whistles' which accent
her burgeoning sexuality, or to the 'once over look' or 'second glance'
stares, which undress her or ravish her. Thus when first kiss is an
issue, she has already experienced assault by masculine eyes. She has
been rendered bodily vulnerable. The masculine glance has reduced
her to prey', as if the very fact that her body is developing into a
woman has turned her into 'fair game'. Her first kiss will reinforce
her acquaintanceship with violence if it should turn out to be
assaulting, revolting or an act of betrayal. Especially if the experi-
ence of being 'pawed' accompanies it, she is left raw. She is left
primed, too, for further abuse.
What is the meaning of the young female adolescent's anticipa-
tion of kissing? Previous research had shown that both genders,
while still inexperienced in "the subtle and delicate art of smooching",
await the first touch of lips both eagerly and with dread, and both
are plagued with layer after layer of increasingly difficult and
awkward questions (Alapack 1991, pg.50). But intergender differ-
To the male the kiss appears both as an 'insurmountable thresh-
old', an 'important hurdle' or 'barrier' on the road to becoming an
adult, and also as 'a baptism under fire', 'a true test under game
conditions', 'a trial by whichever might burn the most, acid or flame!'
Such descriptions evoke the image of a football player, with a case
of the 'butterflies', awaiting the opening kickoff. For the young
woman the ambiguity takes a different turn. In her case the answer
to the question whether or not to kiss pivots around desirability. She
is plagued by a thinly veiled agony concerning his response to her
response to his overture. Some descriptions exemplify this anxiety:
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 53
"If I chicken out when he tries to kiss me, will he ever phone me or
ask me out again?" "Will he consider me 'frigid' if I refuse?" Or
might he "think I'm a 'cheap sleaze' if I should kiss back, especially
if I steal the initiative?" "What will I do if he tries to 'tongue kiss' me,
or wants 'to pet'?" "Mother says guys only want one 'thing'. Does he
think a kiss is just first base, a brief stop on his way to a home run?"
However she might act, she wonders "if the guy will put up a poster
at school the next day proclaiming it." And she worries "what tales
he might tell his pals in the locker room."
Reflection on the above descriptions indicates that even if the
adolescent female might be 'colossally curious' about kissing, and
supremely ready for it, still she basically is in an attitude of a
respondent, of someone wanting to please or to be pleasing. Even
if she should orchestrate the kiss, the meaning of it to him domi-
nates her consciousness. An example: A female remembers being
twelve years old, curious and romantic, but not yet passionate. At
summer camp she "set up" the most popular male camper. Listen to
her series of maneuvers: "One rainy day I was lying on the couch in
the Recreation Hall reading a comic book, poised in such a way that
he was bound to notice me." Later she manipulated him into an
ambiguous conversation, "stilted but strangely different from our
previous talks." When he escorted her to her cabin after the
marshmallow roast, she "stepped up on step to subtly accommodate
for the height differences." He kissed her. She "performed." "I found
myself mentally stepping back, thinking: 'no rockets, fireworks,
music or stars.' I had to fake enjoyment, humor him. But I felt
nothing! Later I sat on my bed and contemplated becoming a nun!"
Even though she felt, at such a tender age, the need "to perform",
and even though that need might later show itself in faking orgasm,
still that description is gently comical compared to outcomes which
are assaultive, repulsive and treacherous.
The Assaultive Kiss
Unexpected kisses, ones which intrude into the young woman's
life-space before she is ready or willing, are physically alienating and
54 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
psychically bruising. One young woman describes the 'battle' that
followed her 'offer': "Finally it hit: the invasion of Normandy was
relived. I had properly closed my eyes and offered my lips when he
placed his hands on my shoulder. I had, in my romantic naivete,
anticipated a gentle kiss on the lips. Instead he pried them open
somehow and invaded my mouth with what felt like his whole face.
I was later relieved to discern it was only his tongue."
Another young woman's story shows that it often turns out to be
more than a mere war'. She was working a summer job at a biblical
wax museum. A much older man frequented it and would stop to
chat with her. One evening he stayed until closing time to help her
lock up. She was wary as she finished her chores. As they walked out
of the building she wanted a quick getaway. The stranger moved
toward her, held her, and French kissed her: "I tore myself away
from him, said goodbye and walked away quickly, yet trying to give
the impression of a nonchalant stroll. As soon as I hit the end of the
block to turn, I ran as fast as I could." The shock of the assault was
nothing compared to the lingering feelings: "a shadow of hurt, a
glimpse of fear, maybe even the invasion or rape"; the feeling that
"my dandelion possibilities had been penetrated by a longing
The Revolting Kiss
Some females experience the kiss when they are still too innocent
to be wary. The subsequent incongruent kiss is repulsive. Some
"I was the proverbial 'sweet sixteen' lass. Stupidly I said, 'I don't
know how to kiss'. He said he was gonna teach me. I was tense. It
was a 'peck' at first. I had no idea of what to do with my hands. I felt
humiliated that I had to be told where to put them. Then it turned
into a 'guided tour'. I couldn't wait till this 'memorable experience'
Another female recalls: "I was shaking and blushing from head
to foot, feeling helpless. First I was alarmed when his tongue started
exploring my mouth. I didn't expect the moving of his hands all over
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 55
my body, or the moving of his hands to move my hands all over him.
He started breathing heavier. I felt a heat come over me. It made me
feel profoundly ashamed. I wanted to slap his face."
A third female was fourteen years old "in the last careless, carefree
summer of girlhood". "He kissed me violently and pawed me all
over. When I started to cry, he let me go." Perhaps she had captured
the sense of all premature first kisses: "I didn't want it to count. I
wanted to wipe it off as I rubbed off the saliva. I couldn't. It couldn't
be reversed; I couldn't be unkissed again. And the moisture, I could
feel it, smell it, even though it was wiped. It made me nauseous. I
felt like I was going to throw up."
The Treacherous Kiss
We are familiar with the fact that the rapist is most often not a
stranger, but a family friend, or a highly admired, respected other.
That fact has made it difficult for the young woman to report an
assault: she has been betrayed; she does not expect to be believed.
The following account demonstrates that the same pattern takes
place around the first kiss.
"I was waiting for a boy to come and visit me for the afternoon,"
the narrative begins. It was a sunny fall Georgia afternoon. She was
excited. It was a contemporary version of waiting for a "gentleman
caller" in the South. "I felt 'special' while waiting for the guy, doing
all the grown-up womanly things I had been taught — cleaning,
primping, making sure there was the right food in the house, that
the glasses were clean, etc." It was her "first grown up date" that she
was expecting, a fellow old enough to drive a car. She writes: "I was
wearing a dark brown velvet, thickly gathered shirt. The neckline
had a fine line of white. I remember holding myself tall, my tummv
in, twirling in front of the mirror to see how I looked." The betrayal
occurs as she turns to exit the kitchen pantry where she had just
dumped trash. She encounters the family friend:
"Dr. M. was standing in the doorway, smoking a cigar, wearing
tortoise glasses which hid what I then used to describe as waterv bug
eyes. His neck was jutting forward just like a chicken's. I had never
56 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
liked this man, my father's friend, a man my mother admired and
would hear nothing bad about, because he was brilliant, a university
full professor. He gave my teenage skin gooseflesh of the creepy,
crawly variety. As he stood in front of me, blocking my path,
grinning — I remember he had a gold crown which glittered — I
asked him what he was doing there. I was surprised by him, but not
scared of him, never having heard or experienced sexual abuse by an
'older' man toward a young girl. I had been promised the living room
for my date and didn't want any other company encroaching on my
privacy. He said, "You look beautiful." I smiled politely. Then, he
put his hand on my shoulder and kissed me open mouthed and stuck
his big, fat, sloppy tongue inside my mouth. I was totally disgusted,
shocked, taken aback. When he started to kiss me, I had let him.
Brought-up to be extremely polite and docile to older people,
especially men, I hadn't wanted him to touch my lips: but it was not
until he intruded his tongue into my mouth that I winced and
pushed him away. His tongue felt so strong, like a barrel that I
couldn't fight against. His face reddened when I pushed, and he
said, "I'm sorry. Please don't tell your mother. She won't under-
stand. You were just... so beautiful. Just say I dropped by for a
moment and had to leave." Then he was gone; he evaporated. The
front door bell rang; I went to answer it; it was my date. I put the
incident behind and didn't think of it again. I never told my mother
or father. I would never have discussed anything that intimate,
personal or sexual with my father and didn't believe my mother
would believe me. I always avoided Dr. M. and his visits to our house
became fewer and fewer. Years later, after he died, when my mother
was raving on and on about what a wonderful man he was, I could
contain myself no longer. I was furious; I thought he was an evil,
slimy, lecherous old man. I told my mother about it. She didn't
believe me — Dr. M., the educated, erudite gentleman would never
do such a thing. End of conversation."
This particular woman's reflections on the aftermath of her first
kiss showcase typical tactics to which young women resort in order
to cope with the introduction to violence. "I never counted that
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 57
kiss," she writes. "It wasn't mine. I wasn't there, present. Lips, skin,
a mouth were involved in the kiss. Me, myself, and I were absent."
Only by an act of alienating, schizoid-like detachment was she able
to affirm that the kiss was "stolen" from her yet simultaneously
became "the kiss that never was." She elaborates the mental gymnas-
tics she utilized so that she could handle the ambiguity of not
trusting men, (especially older/mature men), and of not trusting
herself. "There was something inherently powerful and dangerous
about me, wasn't there?!" "That dangerous part of me", she contin-
ues, "was not me, it was only what others saw. I was tucked away
inside where no one could catch me, unless I wanted them to." She
depicts the process of creating a "disjunction: a 'space of inviolability'
between her essential self and her inconsequential skin. "I knew how
to be present and absent at the same time", she concludes, indicating
that the play-act allowed her "to remain safe, untouched, inviolate."
Social science is silent about the Adolescent First Kiss. No
empirical study of it can be found in developmental literature. There
is a dearth of published empirical evidence about adolescent kissing
in general. Several adolescent psychology texts do not mention it at
all. Information about kissing at any age is scant in all sexuality texts.
Whenever psychologists or sexologists do consider the phenom-
enon, they reduce it to a single meaning or purpose: a form of
foreplay, a touch executed with genital intercourse the presumed
This scientific institutionalization of the kiss as the warm-up for
the main event, or the appetizer before gourmet lovemaking, onlv
perpetuates alienation between the genders, and supports the view
that the female is the victim, a 'babe' or the 'dish'.
According to Giorgi (1970) there is a pervasive dialectical
relationship in psychology between approach, method, and content.
The dominant research paradigm in our culture, technological
pragmatics, is interlaced with a one-dimensional tool, quantifica-
tion. Thus the social scientist is ill-equipped to deal with homey
58 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
phenomena, with experiences and meanings that are part of the
everyday life-world. In terms of adolescence, relevant phenomena
such as the blush, the first kiss, the hickey, the difference between
being caressed and being 'pawed', are overlooked as if too trivial to
consider worth scientific investigation. The consequence is that
social science ignores basic steps in the development of sexuality,
especially in the building of interpersonal relationships.
Since adolescent kissing is not considered a research problem by
mainstream investigators, information about it is woefully lacking
to parents, educators and therapists. Adults typically do not help
adolescents to orient to their first kiss in an attitude of relaxed
enthusiasm. In the absence of wholesome, proactive direction, the
young female too frequently experiences a kiss that saddles her with
feelings of shame, humiliation, disgust and self-loathing. If violence
might start with a kiss, then with dialogue about it adults should
begin to deconstruct violence out of the male-female encounter.
Alapack, R.J. (1975). The outlaw relationship: an existential phenomenological
reflection upon the transition from adolescence to adulthood. In A. Giorgi,
C. Fischer, &c E. Murray (Eds.), Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological
Psychology (vol. 2). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Alapack, R. J. & Alapack, M.C. L. (1984a). The hinge of the door to authentic
adulthood: A Kierkegaardian inspired synthesis of the meaning of leaving
home. Journal of 'Phenomenological Psychology, 15, (1), 45-69.
Alapack, R.J. (1984b). Adolescent first love. In C. M. Aanstoos (Ed.) Exploring
the Lived World: Readings in Phenomenological Psychology (vol. 23). Carrollton,
Georgia: West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences.
Alapack, R.J. (1991). Adolescent First Kiss. The Humanistic Psychologist, 19, (1),
Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science. New York: Harper &c Row.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 59
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Art of Discovery: Experiencing
Kate Chopin's "The Storm"
In The Prospect of Rhetoric, published in 1971, Wayne Booth
asserts that rhetoric is "the art of changing men's minds" (p. 95), and
more recently, Richard McKeon in "Philosophy of Communication
and the Arts" reaffirms that "the new art of rhetoric is the art of
discovery" (1987, p. 110). If the function of rhetoric is to change
"men's minds" through an act of "discovery," how do authors
accomplish the task of directing their audiences to a meaning of
their fiction? What assumptions do authors make about the shared
experiences of their interpretive communities and the ability of
these communities to follow the prompts within the text to lead not
only to an awareness of the text's meaning but to individual self-
"Discovering" the text occurs through the act of reading where
readers undergo a series of transformations, such as Wayne Booth
describes in The Rhetoric of Fiction'.
The author creates ... an image of himself and
another image of his reader, he makes his reader, as
he makes his second self, and the most successful
reading is one in which the created selves, author and
reader, can find complete agreement. (1983, p. 138)
However, reaching a point of unified agreement between author
and reader is not always easily accomplished when a reader comes to
a work with varying expectations about the work and with beliefs
created by class, gender, race, and historical period, to name only a
few. For Wolfgang Iser (1974, p. 30), rhetoric can be used as a
"guiding influence to help the reader produce the meaning of the
text, but his participation is something that goes far beyond the
scope of this influence" (30). The reader has to be guided into an
awareness of the text by certain rhetorical strategies. Such partici-
pation enables the reader to take an interpretative role equal in value
to that of the author and provides the foundation for communica-
tion between author and reader. The reader then "discovers" the
meaning of the text and, as Iser notes, "discovers a new reality
through a fiction which ... is different from the world he himself
62 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
is used to; and he discovers the deficiencies inherent in prevalent
norms and in his own restricted behavior" (1974, p. xiii).
In Kate Chopin's "The Storm," for instance, her reading audi-
ence is asked to take part in another culture, another social reality,
to lay aside biases about gender and about roles in a marriage, and
to examine some larger moral and philosophical concerns and
through those experiences come to an understanding of Chopin's
ultimate purpose as a feminist writer. More importantly, the reading
should persuade the audience to accept the situations provided in
the story and apply these to their own lives, either challenging or
solidifying their established values and perspectives, but ultimately,
in some way, "changing" their minds, enabling "discovery" of a "new
Kate Chopin activates the reader's faculties to make meaning out
of the text through the narrative technique defined by an "implied
author" who chooses what the reader reads through creation of plot,
character, and setting. These textual clues provided by the third
person omniscient narrator invite the reader's active participation;
therefore, the reader assists in the formulation of the story and can
come to a more unified understanding of the story.
In both subject and form, Chopin revolted against tradition and
authority and urged her readers to take a close look at the submerged
lives of women and to understand the root causes of their unequal
positon in American society. She is one of the first early American
writers to trace the subject of women's sexuality as a symbol of
freedom. "The Storm," in particular, deals with the issue of a
woman's sexual freedom and the contradiction that sometimes
exists between truth and this freedom. Although the story is not
solely about Claxita, its general focus is on her and her family. Her
afternoon of lovemaking with Alcee, a former lover and a man who
is not her husband or of the same social class, calls into question the
occasional constraints of conjugal love and that a woman possesses
sexual desires of equal intensity to any man's. Certainly this was not
a welcomed topic for the typical reader of the late nineteenth
century, but even today's readers might have difficulty with what
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 63
seems to be an amoral response to Calixta and Alcee's romantic
interlude. Sex between the two is elating, full of mutual passion and
joy. At the conclusion of the story, the storm, a natural event that
seems to sanction their adulterous interlude, "passed and everyone
was happy" (p. 403). The task of Chopin's "implied author," then,
is to deliver this theme through the detached observer who makes
no moral judgment, but who supplies an objective narration of
events so that Chopin's reader can understand a woman's passions
and her rights to these passions, and through the process of this
understanding, become open to actual change.
The physical structure of the story itself should awaken the
reader's curiosity and stimulate intellectual involvement. "The
Storm" is narrated in five separate vignettes. The first introduces
Bibi, Calixta's son, and Bobinot, Calixta's husband, who are out
running a household errand. The impending storm is first noted
through their eyes. They comment on their concern for Calixta,
who has been left alone, and Bobinot even buys a special can of
shrimp as a gift for her. When the scene closes, Bobinot and Bibi are
resting comfortably together, Bibi unafraid with his hand on his
father's knee. This scene promotes the image of a happy, unified
Section two introduces Calixta seated at a sewing machine
performing a traditionally assigned female task and a task Per
Seyersted sites as a popular metaphor for sexual intercourse (p. 167).
She feels no uneasiness for Bibi and Bobinot's safety, a narrative
observation that counters Bibi and Bobinot's apparent concerns;
however, the narrator's description indicates that she is not callous
toward them but is too engaged in her work to even notice the storm.
When she realizes that the storm is approaching, she quickly rises
from her work to go outdoors and collect her husband's Sundav
clothes from the front gallery where she had left them to air. All of
this work indicates the reciprocal nature of Calixta's relationship
with Bobinot: she does for him; he does for her and once again
demonstrates that they represent a typical happy family. To empha-
size Chopin's feminist message, however, the narrator clearly de-
64 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
fines Calixta's role of mother and of homemaker to help clarify her
final point, which is the need to redefine the then existing percep-
tions of women and their roles.
When she runs outside to retrieve her husband's clothes, she sees
Alcee Laballiere, a former lover before her marriage. The narrator
tells us that "she had not seen him very often since her marriage, and
never alone" (p. 399). When the rain begins, Alcee asks if he can take
shelter under an outside projection, expressing his genuine "inten-
tion to remain outside" (p. 400), once again information the narrator
provides. However, the narrator also describes the powerful attrac-
tion between the two by highlighting Calixta's reaction to seeing her
former lover again: "his voice and her own startled her as if from a
trance" (p. 400).
When it becomes clear that the storm will be too intense for Alcee
to remain outside as he had originally intended, he assists her by
bringing in Bobinot's trousers, a symbolic suggestion by the narrator
of the sexual betrayal that is to occur, and he brings in Bibi's jacket
"that was about to be carried away by a sudden gust of wind" (p. 400).
Certainly the sudden gust of wind and the storm figuratively signify
the eventual "carrying away" of sexual loyalty pledged by a marriage
vow and pose a situational threat to this already established happy
family. The careful reader would be aware that the conditions
leaving these two former romantic partners alone are potentially
threatening. Further foreshadowing is provided when the narrator
shifts the point of view and directs commentary to Calixta's physical
attributes. She is "a little fuller of figure than five years before . . .;
but she had lost nothing of her vivacity" (p. 400). From a somewhat
sensual description of Calixta, the narrator shifts again to a descrip-
tion of the house's interior, stopping with a description of the
bedroom. Its door is open: "the room with its white, monumental
bed, its closed shutters, looked dim and mysterious" (p. 400), almost
as if it were a dimly lit sanctuary. In the late 1800's, of course, it
would have been unthinkable to most people to describe the
bedroom of a married couple, particularly one that would be violated
by one adulterous moment.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 65
The narrator quickly shifts again into a discussion of the storm
and its climax. Its threatening nature frightens Calixta and causes
her to express concern for her son, hoping that "Bobinot's got sense
enough to come in out of a cyclone" (p. 400). She goes to her window
to get a more direct view of the storm, and Alcee intuitively follows.
When lightning strikes a nearby tree, Calixta becomes inconsolable,
and, as the narrator tells us, Alcee "unthinkingly" (p. 401) draws her
to him, but this action "aroused all the old-time infatuation and
desire for her flesh" (p. 401). Once again, any emotions of desire are
filtered through the narrator's detached position. Neither Alcee nor
Calixta comment on their attraction to the other or on their desire
to consumate this attraction. The narrator, not Alcee, describes her
lips as being
red and moist as a pomegranate seed. Her white
neck and a glimpse of her full, firm bosom disturbed
him powerfully. As he glanced up at him the fear in
her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy
gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous de-
sire. He looked down into her eyes and there was
nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss.
It reminded him of Assumption, (p. 403)
Because the narrator describes these events and emotions, they
become a mere statement of fact rather than an emotionally complex
network of desires where one exerts one's will over the other.
At this point it becomes clear that their passion will culminate in
sexual union, but often readers are confused by their own values and
beliefs and have trouble accepting this sexual liason, especially when
both partners are married. In fact, Calixta usually bears the brunt of
most moral criticism. The implied author has created her as a
mother and a wife, and in the eyes of most readers, she should not
participate in such adulterous behavior. Instead, Calixta's response
is just as passionate as Alcee's: "Her lips seemed in a manner free to
be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her white breasts"
(p. 401). Rather than writhing in guilt, she laughs while she lays in
Alcee's arms, throughly enjoying this unexpected sexual interlude.
66 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Through the voice of the narrator, Chopin's own voice is heard as
she asserts that it is a woman's "birthright" to enjoy sex and passion
equal to any man's and that because sex is a natural act, neither
character should be judged (p. 401):
She was a revelation in that dim, mysterious cham-
ber; as white as the couch she lay upon. Her firm,
elastic flesh that was knowing for the first time its
birthright, was like a creamy lily that the sun invites
to contribute its breath and perfume to the undying
life of the world, (p. 401)
Because pleasure is asserted not merely as a possibility but as a right
for a woman, Calixta, in this instance, teaches Alcee, and perhaps
all mankind, that "guile and trickery" (p. 401) are not an integral part
of a woman's response in lovemaking.
In part four the reader learns that Alcee, too, has a family. His
wife Clarisse is away visiting her family in Mississippi. Upon his
return from his afternoon sexual frolic, he writes a loving letter to his
wife, again, not to confess any sin or to beg for forgiveness. Instead
he urges her to stay longer in Mississippi if she wishes; he is "getting
on nicely" (p. 402). There is no attempt by the narrator to miscon-
strue this statement or to view it in light of Alcee's recent indiscre-
tion. The narrator explains that "he was willing to bear the separa-
tion a while longer — realizing that their [his family's] health and
pleasure were the first things to be considered" (p. 403). There is no
cynicism in the narrator's remarks, only statement of genuine fact.
The story concludes with Clarrisse's delight in receiving Alcee's
letter and in her relief at having the option of more time apart. She
was enjoying her time with friends and family, but more importantly
she was glad to be released from the sexual obligation imposed by
marriage. Her separation from Alcee restores her to the "pleasant
liberty of her maiden days" (p. 403). As the narrator adds, "devoted
as she was to her husband, their intimate conjugal life was some-
thing which she was more than willing to forego for awhile" (p. 403).
Readers who come to this work with a set of values based on
stereotypical notions most likely have trouble accepting that when
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 67
the storm concludes, Alcee gets up and rides away. Bobinot and Bibi
return home shortly after the torid lovemaking scene, leaving
Calixta time enough to prepare supper. She rushes out to greet both,
clasping her son and "kissing him effusively" (p. 402). She "seemed
to express nothing but satisfaction at their safe return" (p. 402).
There is no guilt-ridden confession, no act of contrition, no other
desire beyond seeing her family again and resuming life as normal.
No one pays for this afternoon of sexual betrayal. Instead, as the
narrator blithely tells us, "So the storm passed and everyone was
happy," not an immediately satisfactory conclusion for most readers
It is at this point that reader involvement is most crucial. If
readers do feel prone to judge either party, they are not getting the
support they need from the implied author whose narrator has
supplied an objective series of events. If Chopin is making a
comment on a woman's right to participate in sexual pleasure
without being duly punished, perhaps leaving readers in a position
to judge leaves them also in a position to help her prove her point.
If readers are prone to judge Calixta harshly, then they are exhibiting
the type of repressive behavior that condemns a woman when she
expresses her sexual desires. In this way they become a part of the
text because they stereotype women and women's feeling and have
categorized women into traditional roles. By initially becoming a
judge or oppressor, the reader can know the type of oppression that
nineteenth and twentieth century women have felt when they have
tried to express themselves naturally in a male-dominated society;
thus through such first-hand experience, recognition and reform
may actually occur.
Sex, as Chopin hopes to emphasize through the story, is natural
and as an act sanctioned by nature should never be viewed as
indecient or immoral. In fact, the narrator's deliberate description,
makes it appear that all of nature sanctioned the sexual encounter
between Calixta and Alcee. As soon as the torrent was over, "the sun
was turning the glistening green world into a palace of gems" (p.
402). These details create a sense of cosmic joy and mystery as Alcee
68 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
and Calixta become one with each other and with the elements. The
narrator factually reaffirms that "they seemed to swoon together at
the very borderland of life's mystery" (p. 401). Even the title of the
story sanctions their union. Commenting on the French definition
of the word storm, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant (1988, p.
708) identify the storm as having a "romantic theme that symbolizes
the aspirations of natural man toward a life less banal, a life
tormented, agitated, burning with passion — a love of storms
betrays a need of intensity in existence!"
Alcee's allusion to Assumption, a religious holiday celebrating
the Assumption of the Virgin into heavenly bliss, as well as being a
place-name where he had once kissed Calixta in an earlier story,
suggests to Anna Elfenbein, in Women on the Color Line, the
secularization of religious experience and the elevation of sexual
experience to the status of religious sacrament" (1989, p. 140).
Thus, in telling the tale, the narrator inserts varied religious imagery
along the way. The bedroom is described as an almost holy place.
Bobinot's Sunday clothes, a symbol of his sexuality, are hanging on
the gallery. Alcee later carries in these trousers to save them from the
That Alcee and Calixta's sexual experience is part of a natural act
frees them from guilt and from any emotional repercussions if they
confess their indiscretion to their families. The storm that ignites
their passion also saves them from any devastating confrontations.
In Calixta and Alcee's passion, man and woman equally participate
in one of the mysteries of nature. The essence of this mystery as
described through Chopin's implied authorship is a revelation of
oneness of man, woman, and nature in an experience that precludes
Participation in the sexual act without moral repercussions
represents a significant element of freedom for Chopin and for her
readers. It will hopefully set women free to be themselves and to
liberate themselves from society's elimination of certain basic rights.
It could even be concluded that Alcee's brief visit is beneficial to all.
Bobinot and Bibi gain as Calixta appears to be more amiable toward
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 69
them. With her rejuvenated spirit, she enlivens her family so that
they all "laughed much and so loud that anyone might have heard
them as far away as Laballiere's" (p. 402). Their union frees Calixta
and Alcee briefly from the boring sexual routine of their physically
unsatisfying marriages, and it frees them to complete an unfinished
relationship that began long ago. Clarisse also benefits because she
is permitted to return to the satisying experience of her youth and,
for awhile, forgo the burden of wifely sexual obligations. Even the
tone of the story figures into the greater message of freedom. While
it is detached and unsentimental, it is also warm and "serenely free"
(Seyersted 1969, p. 168).
Once Kate Chopin remarked, in reaction to criticism of the
shocking portrayals of women's feelings in her fiction, "Sometimes
I feel as if I should like to get a good, remunerative job to do the
thinking for some people" (qtd. in Ewell 1986, p. 21). Of course, it
could be that her writing was a way to do the "thinking for some
people" with the hope that the final effect would be "changing men's
minds." Certainly Kate Chopin exerted a powerful influence over
the minds of her readers, and she must have realized, too, that her
reading public was not ready for the revolutionary statement housed
within "The Storm." It was never published during her lifetime.
Wolfgang Iser reminds us that the act of discovery through the
reading of a work is a form of "esthetic pleasure" (1974, p. xiii)
because it offers the reader two separate possibilities: "first, to free
himself — even if only temporarily — from what he is and to escape
from the restrictions of his own social life; second, actively to
exercise his faculties — generally the emotional and the cognitive"
(1974, p. xiii). Chopin's story fulfills these requirements for "discov-
ery." A reading of "The Storm" challenges the restrictions of a
reader's social codes and heightens emotions into either an aware-
ness of a woman's stance or to acceptance and change of mind.
Through the creation of this potential act of discovery, Chopin must
have accomplished her task of initiating necessary change regarding
women, or an article such as this could never have been printed
about a story once too shocking to be published.
70 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Chopin, Kate. 1986. "The Storm." Pages 399-403 in Literature: The Human
Experience. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz (Ed.). 4th ed. New York:
St. Martian's Press.
Booth, Wayne C. 1971. The Prospect of Rhetoric. Bitzer and Black (Ed.). Chicago:
Univ. of Chicago Press.
— . 1983. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago: Univ.of Chicago Press.
Chevalier, Jean, Alain Gheerbrant, and Robert Laffont. 1988. Pages 708-709 in
Dictionnaire Des Symboles: Paris: Jupiter.
Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. 1989. Women on the Color Line. Charlottesville: Univ.
Press of Virginia.
Ewell, Barbara C. 1986. Kate Chopin. New York: The Ungar Publishing Co.
Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
McKeon, Richard. 1987. "Philosophy of Communication and the Arts." Page
110 in Rhetoric: Essays on Invention and Discovery. Mark Backman (Ed.).
Woodbridge: Ox Bow.
Seyersted, Per. 1969. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography . Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press.
Skaggs, Peggy. 1985. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne Publishers.
Taylor, Helen. 1989. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth
McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ.
Toth, Emily. 1990. Kate Chopin. New York: Milliam Morrow and Co., Inc.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 71
WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Epistemology, Ethics, and Eliot:
Feminine Development in
Sandra S. Honaker
George Eliot's Middlemarch, set in England just before 1832,
portrays a world where women are denied access to male methods
of education. Women of this time are "considered sensible but not
reasonable," and are "all but denied status as humans" (Richardson
1988, p. 14). Education, other than that which teaches young ladies
how to conduct themselves decorously, is thought to be wasted on
them. Consequently, women, denied traditional education and
therefore epistemology, have to develop alternate ways of knowing,
"different perspectives from which [to] view reality and draw
conclusions about truth, knowledge, and authority" (Belenky et al
1986, p. 3). Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule, in their book
Women's Ways of Knowing, describe five different epistemological
patterns of women: silence, received knowledge, subjective knowl-
edge, procedural knowledge, and constructed knowledge. If we
apply their epistemological schemata to Rosamond Vincy, Dorothea
Brooks, and Mary Garth in Middlemarch, we discover that the
epistemological development of these women is directly related to
their ethical development. In short, the more these women learn to
value the self as a basis for knowing, the more they learn to value
responsibility to self as well as others in making ethical choices.
Rosamond Vincy advances the least among the young women of
the novel along the epistemological rubric in Women's Ways of
Knowing. Rosamond, through the education of Mrs. Lemon, has
progressed beyond the most elementary epistemological stage,
silence, whose members are characterized as being "passive, sub-
dued, and subordinate" (Belenky eta/1986, p. 30). Instead, Rosamond
relies on received knowledge - the authority of knowledge received
from Mrs. Lemon, for example. Unlike a silent knower, Rosamond
knows the value of language - she learns by listening (Eliot 1874, p.
37) - but she fails to use language as a vehicle of thought or a mode
of connection to others. Received knowers also tend to see the world
in polarities, and believe so implicitly in authorities that they never
realize "that authorities have the capacity for constructing knowl-
edge. In their view, authorities must receive v truths' from the words
of even higher authorities" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 39).
74 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Rosamond, who has had the least amount of education of the
young women in the novel, is "the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school,
the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that
was demanding in the accomplished female - even to extras, such as
the getting in and out of a carriage" (Eliot 1874, p. 65). Rosamond
treats language as she does her musical ability: her execution is
flawless but the sentiment is copied from her teachers. Language is
important only in as far as it adorns her appearance as a lady. In her
first scene she corrects her mother twice for using "unladylike" and
"vulgar" language, and argues with her brother Fred that "correct
English" is the only language that is not common slang (Eliot 1874,
pp. 66-67). To her, language is either right or wrong. Its only value
is utilitarian - language has no value in and of itself. This view of
language points to a deficiency in Rosamond's character, for as
Emmanuel Levinas points out in his essay "Language and Proxim-
ity," language "is essential to thought, inasmuch as thought is
thematization and identification" (Levinas 1987, p. 110). Rosamond
is, therefore, incapable of following another person's train of thought;
she actually cannot understand Lydgate's financial problems (Eliot
1874, p. 456).
Because Rosamond holds this limited view of language, she does
not see language as an effective tool for communicating with the
other. In fact, she communicates most effectively when she does not
rely on language. She wins the heart of Lydgate, for example, by
crying in response to the gentle tone in his voice. Lydgate, seeing her
tears, feels that there "could have been no more complete answer
than silence" (Eliot 1874, p. 208). He responds to her subdued
response with an engagement. She also expresses her anger silently;
when her mother tells her that her father is not happy with the
engagement, Rosamond "listened in silence, and at the end gave a
certain turn of her graceful neck, of which only long experience
could teach you that it meant perfect obstinacy" (Eliot 1874, p. 236).
Rosamond doesn't stoop to argue - she merely does what she feels
is proper and right (at least for her) according to the dictates of Mrs.
Lemon's school. When Lydgate admonishes her for going out
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 75
riding when she is pregnant, she doesn't argue with him, but merely
turns her neck to indicate her obstinacy (Eliot 1874, p. 403). When
Lydgate finally confesses their lack of funds to her and asks for her
help, she responds only by putting into the words '"What can I do!'
as much neutrality as they could hold" (Eliot 1874, p. 410). She is
afraid to commit herself verbally, and seems not to understand
Lydgate's words, even when he fully and forcefully explains their
financial situation to her, trying to "nail down [Rosamond's] vague
mind to imperative facts" (Eliot 1874, p. 450). She is convinced that
all of Lydgate's attempts to save money are merely means to
humiliate and embarrass her; no amount of argument on his part can
convince her otherwise.
In light of her inability to communicate to others through
language and her stunted epistemological development, Rosamond's
lack of ethical development is not surprising. Levinas remarks that
ethics and language are inextricably bound to one another. Since his
ethical system is bound in recognition of the other, and language is
"the foundation of the other one" (Levinas 1987, p. 116), then every
act of language is an act of responsibility to another. But Rosamond
never reaches the ethical level of responsibility, largely because she
does not articulate her ethical beliefs, an action Charles Taylor
(1989) insists is crucial to this development. She assumes ethical
beliefs, the really important ones anyway, have already been taught
to her by Mrs. Lemon. Rosamond doesn't need to talk about her
ethics because she believes her ethics are perfectly correct. When she
lies to Mrs. Plymdale about the availability of houses for rent,
claiming no knowledge when she full well knows her husband
intends to offer their house to Ned Plymdale, she shows no remorse.
She is convinced she is in the right, her husband is in the wrong, and
her object is "thoroughly justifiable" (Eliot 1874, p. 452).
In Carol Gilligan's study on feminine ethical development, she
notes that the initial focus of ethics is "on caring for the self in order
to ensure survival" (1982, p. 74). Rosamond has not even reached
the early stage of defining her actions as selfish, which would at least
indicate she was emerging from this egocentric mode. Instead, she
76 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
sees the actions of others around her as threats, and sees only herself
as without blame. "In fact there was but one person in Rosamond's
world whom she did not regard as blameworthy, and that was the
graceful creature with blond plaits and with little hands crossed
before her, who had never expressed herself unbecomingly" (Eliot
1874, p. 460). Since she alone in her world understands the
importance of not being vulgar and common, she feels justified in
taking any action necessary to ensure the continuation of her way of
life, and does not actually weigh the morality of the situation - she
When Rosamond's actions fail to change the disagreeable facts
of the world, she pretends she doesn't care. At the New Year's party
near the end of the novel she marvels at the distance she manages to
feel from her husband, her cool detachment. This detachment,
however, is actually "a studied negation by which she satisfied her
inward opposition to him without compromise of propriety" (Eliot
1874, p. 443). She has decided not to care for her husband, that not
caring is the safest route to her survival and to her plans to
circumvent Lydgate. So she goes through the correct motions of the
loving wife, sitting on Lydgate's knee when he asks her to, for
example, but even as she does so "in her secret soul she was utterly
aloof from him" (Eliot 1 874, p. 448). It is easier for her to stop caring
about others than to be forced to recognize the rightness and
individuality of others.
But this "moral nihilism" (Gilligan 1982, p. 124) is dangerous,
for when Rosamond feels her survival is threatened, her shaky
ethical stance collapses. When Will Ladislaw curses her for putting
him in an awkward position with Dorothea, Rosamond feels she is
"almost losing the sense of her identity" (Eliot 1874, p. 537). After
Will leaves, Rosamond collapses in the drawing room, and is unable
to move or care for herself- she has lost even her instinct for survival
in the face of criticism. Since her ethical system has been over-
thrown, Rosamond experiences a sense of aimlessness, of "floating"
(Gilligan 1982, p. 145). Her world is undermined still more when
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 77
Dorothea comes to see her again, and instead of showing the jealous
anger toward Rosamond that she expects, Dorothea is kind to her.
[Rosamond] was under the first great shock that had
shattered her dream-world in which she had been
easily confident of herself and critical of others; and
this strange unexpected manifestation of feeling in a
woman whom she had approached with a shrinking
aversion and dread, as one who must necessarily
have a jealous hatred towards her, made her soul
totter all the more with a sense that she had been
walking in an unknown world which had just broken
in upon her (Eliot 1874, p. 549).
Although this unanchored feeling often heralds a state of change, it
is doubtful whether poor old Rosamond will ever change greatly.
Even Lydgate recognizes that he will have to care for her for the rest
of his life - she will never extend her responsibility to him (Eliot
1874, p. 552). And in the Finale, we see that this is true. Rosamond
never gives up circumventing Lydgate's commands, but as their lives
become more comfortable, she has less occassion to do so (Eliot
1874, p. 575). She never grows ethically; her life just becomes easier
for her to defend.
For all this, George Eliot does not allow us to dismiss Rosamond,
or hate her as purely evil. Eliot takes great pains to describe
Rosamond's ennui with her static life, and when she has Rosamond
say, "There really is nothing to care for much" (Eliot 1874, p. 415),
she is reminding us of the awful stasis of the leisured woman's life.
Later in the novel, after Lydgate's disgrace, Eliot refuses to let us
condemn Rosamond for thinking that somehow the arrival of Will
Ladislaw will change things by saying that this method of logic "is
too common to be fairly regarded as a peculiar folly in Rosamond"
(Eliot 1874, p. 531). Rosamond does have a moment of redemption,
too, however slight, when she and Dorothea have their tete-a-tete.
For the first time in the novel Rosamond seems to have a true
conversation which acknowledges another and conveys true emo-
tion. When they quietly part, Eliot comments on their lack of
78 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
ostentatious affection by saying "there had been between them too
much serious emotion for them to use the signs of it superficially"
(Eliot 1874, p. 551). Perhaps if Rosamond could have had more
contact with Dorothea, she would have been more receptive to
others - but as it is this brief recognition of Dorothea does not make
a lasting impression on Rosamond. She is too firmly set in her own
Dorothea Brooke also can be categorized as believing in received
knowledge, but unlike Rosamond, she briefly advances to a subjec-
tive thinker. She too, has received a suitably feminine education
(Eliot 1874, p. 2), but Dorothea feels frustrated by this lack of
knowledge, and seeks to enlarge her mind. The main attraction of
marriage with Casaubon is that it will "deliver her from her girlish
subjection to her own ignorance" (Eliot 1874, p. 17). As Kathleen
Blake observes in Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Litera-
ture, Dorothea feels Casaubon will give her "entry into the provinces
of masculine knowledge - Latin and Greek" (1983, p. 33). However,
instead of moving out of her reliance on received knowledge,
Dorothea, in marrying Casaubon, is merely seeking refuge with a
higher authority - she is still not developing her own way of knowing
and understanding the world, and in fact is using Casaubon to be a
barometer of her own hazy opinions (Blake 1983, p. 33). When she
first considers marriage with him, she sees him as rescuing her from
the "indefiniteness which hung in her mind, like a thick summer
haze, over all her desire to make her life greatly effective" (Eliot
1874, p. 17). She hopes Casaubon will help her see "which opinions
had the best foundation, and would help me to live according to
them" (Eliot 1874, p. 26). It is her own disbelief in her ability and
validity that causes Dorothea to choose such a pedant for a mate.
As her confidence in Casaubon wanes, Dorothea begins to make
an epistemological shift from received knowledge to subjective
knowledge. As with most women who move from received knowl-
edge to subjective knowledge, Dorothea's shift in epistemological
perception is brought about by a specific incident: in many cases this
is motherhood, but in Dorothea's it comes about because of "failed
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 79
male authority" (Btlenky et a/ 1986, p. 57). Dorothea first loses faith
in Casaubon's authority during the weeks of her honeymoon; more
importantly, she comes to this conclusion with a gut feeling, not
How was it that in the weeks since her marriage,
Dorothea had not distinctly observed but felt
with a stifling depression, that the large vistas
and wide fresh air which she had dreamed of
finding in her husband's mind were replaced by
anterooms and winding passages which seemed
to lead nowhither? (Eliot 1874, p. 136; my
She then moves into the realm of Hidden Multiplists, fledgling
subjective knowers who are beginning to realize that they have
different ideas than the authority figure, but keep silent out of fear
of rebuke or isolation (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 64) - with Dorothea,
the fear of rebuke comes from both Casaubon and her god. She
rebels against her husband in her private thought, and in a few
instances aloud, but she often does not speak aloud because she
suspects her inability to appreciate her husband might come from
her own sin. On their honeymoon, when Casaubon shows irritation
at Dorothea when she dares to comment upon his work, Dorothea
angrily defends herself, but the encounter leaves her sobbing. Later
in the novel, when Casaubon brusquely ignores Dorothea, she at
first lets herself feel indignation - "What have I done . . . that he
should treat me so?" (Eliot 1 874, p. 294) - but later repents and waits
up for him.
Her break with authority is complete only when her husband
dies. Not only is her authority figure now dead, but he has humili-
ated her with the implication of the codicil in his will. Dorothea
finalizes her break with her husband by refusing to continue his life's
work, although it is clear Casaubon intended her to do so. When she
finds the Synoptical Tabulation for the use of Mrs Casaubon, she inserts
the following note into the envelope and seals it for her dead
husband: "I could not use it. Do you not see that I could not submit
80 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
my soul to yours, by working hopelessly at what I have no belief in?"
(Eliot 1874, p. 372). Since Dorothea only rebels after Casaubon's
death, Eliot claims that this act "may perhaps be smiled at as
superstitious" (Eliot 1874, p. 372), but this is an act of rebellion,
It is significant, too, that Dorothea communicates, or fails to
communicate, with her dead husband through a note, for that is the
form of communication that started their union. Casaubon writes
her a letter of marriage proposal, and what a lifeless epistle this letter
For in the first hour of meeting you, I had an
impression of your eminent and perhaps exclusive
fitness to supply that need (connected, I may say,
with such activity of the affections as even the
preoccupations of a work too special to be abdicated
could not uninterruptedly dissimulate); and each
succeeding opportunity for observation has given
the impression an added depth by convincing me
more emphatically of that fitness which I had pre-
conceived, and thus evoking more decisively those
affections to which I have but not referred (Eliot
1874, p. 27).
Dorothea's inability to detect the stilted artificiality of this
language is remarked upon by George Eliot, when she comments as
narrator that it did not occur to Dorothea to "examine the letter, to
look at it critically as a profession of love" (Eliot 1 874, p. 28). In fact,
her very short and uncreative reply to Casaubon's letter, also a form
of written, not spoken, speech foreshadows her relationship with
Casaubon. As Levinas observes, the contact of speech is important,
regardless of the message (1987, p. 115). Since Dorothea and
Casaubon avoid spoken speech, and thus contact, their marriage is
doomed to be a loveless one, and a relatively silent one.
After Casaubon's death, for a brief while, Dorothea becomes a
subjective thinker, a more developed epistemological mode, and her
use of language returns. Subjective thinkers have a "new conception
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 81
of truth as personal, private, and subjectively known or intuited"
(Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 54). They believe in themselves instead of the
authorities, even if they cannot cogently explain this belief. They
also believe in "multiple personal truths" (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 66).
Dorothea distrusts authorities, sometimes in the face of direct
evidence (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 72), as when Dorothea instinctively
rises to Lydgate's aid even though Mr. Farebrother believes he is
guilty. She declares forcefully, "You don't believe that Mr Lydgate
is guilty of anything base? I will not believe it. Let us find out the
truth and clear him!" (Eliot 1874, p. 505; my emphasis). This
declaration is as important as the content of the statement, for
Dorothea, freed from stifling Casaubon, finds her voice again. And
the first thing she does with this new found voice is to restore her
feeling of responsibility, for language creates "fraternity, and thus a
responsibility for the other, and hence a responsibility for what [she]
has not committed, for the pain and the fault of others" (Levinas
1987, p. 123). Although she fails to clear Lydgate as far as the town
is concerned, Dorothea does relieve Lydgate of his obligation to
Bulstrode, and supports him with her strong belief in his innocence
and strength of character. In fact, she supports him through her
language and actions as the ideal wife would - two things his own
wife, Rosamond, fails to provide.
It is this tendency to "devote [herself] to the care and empower-
ment of others while remaining v selfless'" (Belenky e t al 1 986, p. 46)
that causes Dorothea to ultimately revert back to her dependence on
authorities - she merely finds a worthier authority, in her view: Will
Ladislaw. Instead of developing this growing sense of self, she
decides to channel it into her "growing capacity to care for others"
(Eliot 1874, p. 46).
So Dorothea falls victim to "the conventions of femininitv,
particularly the moral equation of goodness with self-sacrifice"
(Gilligan 1982, p. 70). Dorothea is far beyond the selfish ethic of
simple survival (Rosamond's sticking point), even at the beginning
of the novel, and sees herself only in relationship to others. In fact,
in her attempts to build new cottages on Sir James's estate, she
82 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
reveals a more developed moral imperative than Rosamond -
Dorothea feels "an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and
alleviate the 'real and recognizable trouble' of this world" (Gilligan
1982, p. 100). And Dorothea's recognition of responsibility is not
just a simple desire to do no harm, but it "signifies response, an
extension rather than a limitation of action. Thus it connotes an act
of care rather than the restraint of aggression" (Gilligan 1982, p. 38).
She feels she must help others - as seen in her response to Lydgate's
predicament as well as in other places throughout the novel. But this
willingness to help ultimately traps Dorothea - first with Casaubon
and then with Will - because it does not extend to herself. She feels
no responsibility to make herself happy; instead, her happiness can
only come about as a by-product of securing someone else's happi-
ness. She has relegated herself to the role of helpmate, which Daniel
Levinson notes in his 1978 study has been the traditional role of
women (Gilligan 1982). Women as helpmates are consigned to
"play a relatively subordinate role in the individual drama of human
development" (Gilligan 1982, p. 153).
Her morality is fueled by what Charles Taylor (1989) calls
"hypergoods," driving moral forces which are seen to dominate
moral life. There can only be one hypergood per moral framework,
and although the hypergood mr„y change in a person's lifetime, the
new hypergood will "challenge and reject" (Taylor 1989, p. 65) the
old hypergood. Dorothea's first hypergood is her determination to
build the cottages, then it becomes Casaubon and the pursuit of his
knowledge, then finally Will and this elevating love he promises, as
well as his eventual career as a reformer and politician.
This tendency to see Will as her hypergood is why Dorothea's
reaction when she thinks Will has betrayed her trust is so violent.
After she sees Will and Rosamond together and hastily backs out of
the room, she at first feels a strange rush of energy, as if "she had
drunk a great draught of scorn that stimulated her beyond the
susceptibility to other feelings. She had seen something so far below
her belief, that her emotions rushed back from it and made an
excited throng without an object" (Eliot 1874, p. 535). She, like
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 83
Rosamond, teeters on the edge of a moral nihilism for a brief
moment, but Dorothea's moral nihilism is short lived. As soon as
she is reminded of Will's human existence by the small detail of the
tortoise-shell box that he gave as a present to Henrietta Noble, she
can no longer deny her feeling for Will, and rushes home to blurt out
"Oh, I did love him!" (Eliot 1874, p. 542). Afterwards, she, like
Rosamond, loses the ability to care for herself for a while, but for very
different reasons: Dorothea cares too greatly, and is unable to even
try to pretend that she does not care for Will. "But she lost energy
at last even for her loud-whispered cries and moans: she subsided
into helpless sobs, and on the cold floor she sobbed herself to sleep"
(Eliot 1874, p. 543). She at last decides this action is "selfish
complaining" (Eliot 1874, p. 544) and rouses herself in order to
fulfill her responsibility to another: to "attempt to see and save
Rosamond" (Eliot 1874, p. 545), despite the fact that she believes
Rosamond to have taken her Will away (Eliot, I believe, intends this
pun). Dorothea's responsibility to others saves her from Rosamond's
moral nihilism, but her ethical stance is still rooted in others, not
herself. And this determines how she will live her life. Dorothea
recognizes that without further epistemological development, this
is the best ethical stance she can take. She states to Celia "It is quite
true that I might be a wiser person . . . and that I might have done
something better, if I had been better" (Eliot 1874, p. 566). But
Dorothea feels the best she can do is marry Will Ladislaw; "this is
what I am going to do" (Eliot 1874, p. 566).
This ending is often seen as a defeating one for Dorothea, and
Eliot emphasizes this when she describes Dorothea in the Finale as
feeling "that there was always something better which she might
have done, if she had only been better and known better" (Eliot
1874, p. 576). Dorothea does, however, find fulfillment in her life
with Will by supporting him in his life as an "ardent public man"
(Eliot 1874, p. 576). And although Eliot states that many people
who knew Dorothea felt it "a pity that so substantive and rare a
creature should have been absorbed into the life of another .... no
one stated exactly what else that was in her power she ought rather
84 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
to have done" (Eliot 1874, p. 576). In short, althought Dorothea
shows the potential of becoming another St. Theresa at the begin-
ning of the novel, this potential is wasted by her inability, or society's
unwillingness, to allow her to develop an epistemology that would
allow her go to further.
It is left to Mary Garth to live at least a small portion of the life
that Dorothea falls short of. Mary's education is comparable to both
Rosamond's and Dorothea's, but it is her attitude toward learning
that sets her apart. Even though she has attended the same school
as Rosamond, Mary attended as an "articled pupil" (Eliot 1874, p.
74) - one on scholarship. And instead of waiting for someone to
come along and teach her, as Dorothea does, Mary reads to educate
herself- despite resistance from Mr. Featherstone, who "can't abide
to see her reading to herself (Eliot 1874, p. 76).
Mary also does not rely blindly on what she reads, or kowtow to
authorities. She is known for her observant remarks and biting wit,
as when she teases Fred about his college education, and when she
jokes with him about his failure to take the divinity exam: "Divide
your cleverness by ten, and the quotient - dear me! - is able to take
a degree" (Eliot 1874, p. 95). She is able to believe herself capable
of knowing what is right and wrong, and shows this by demonstrat-
ing remarkable integrity on the night Mr. Featherstone dies. Her
refusal to defer to his obvious authority (which sets her apart from
the other characters in the novel) and burn the will, even though
Fred would personally profit from it, shows an epistemological
process devoid of reliance on authority. Mary simply knows she is
doing the right thing.
Mary's training as a teacher, and her success at finding a position
as such (Eliot 1874, p. 276), suggests that she has had the academic
discipline associated with procedural knowledge, the next episte-
mological stage after subjective knowledge. The procedural knower
learns that although many opinions are valid, there is a method of
abstracting truth from process; in other words, she learns that "truth
can be shared" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 92) without being dictated.
Procedural knowledge comes closest to the traditional ways of
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 85
thinking, especially the subdivision labeled separate knowers, who,
usually through an academic regimen, have mastered objective,
analytic methods of acquiring knowledge. The separate knower
learns to think academically, and then "uses this new mode of
thinking to construct arguments powerful enough to meet the
standards of impersonal authority" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 101).
Connected knowers, on the other hand, understand as opposed to
know. "Understanding involves intimacy and equality between self
and object, while knowledge . . . implies separation from the object
and mastery over it" (Belenky et al 1986, p. 101).
Mary consciously rejects the separated form of procedural knowl-
edge for a connected form of knowledge when she expresses that her
"mind is too fond of wandering on its own way" (Eliot 1874, p. 93).
She does not prefer separated procedural knowing, but can perform
it, as her teaching ability suggests. She is adept, however, at
connected knowing, at analysis that is not devoid of relationship
(Belenky et al 1986, p. 101). Her clever account of Tom, who
knocked down the ants' house and "thought they didn't mind
because he couldn't hear them cry" is a subtle jibe at Fred, who can
not see the damage that his debt has caused the Garth family (Eliot
1874, p. 444). Mary also demonstrates this ability when her mother
chastises her for her aversion to teaching, and Mary responds
intelligently with "I suppose we never quite understand why another
dislikes what we like, mother" (Eliot 1874, p. 276). Although Mary
speaks curtly here, she expresses her opinion to her mother without
alienating her or even angering her.
It may even be stated that Mary reaches the highest level of
epistemological development, Belenky's constructed knowledge,
which is typified by creative acts (1986). Although Mary Garth is
hardly a picture of liberated womanhood, she is a remarkable
product of her time, and it is noteworthy that it is she, not Dorothea,
who eventually leaves her mark on the world. Mary writes and
publishes a book for children called Stories of Great Men, taken from
Plutarch. Yes, it is a book for children about men, but this creative
act is above what any of the other women in the novel manages to
86 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
enact. Eliot ironically (and perhaps autobiographically) comments
that Middlemarch refuses to believe that a mere women, who has
not been to the university, has written on such a classical subject; this
comment further draws attention to Mary's achievement.
According to Belenky, constructivist women, when confronted
with a moral dilemma, want to know more about the situation
before making judgements. They ask questions which "indicate a
sensitivity to situation and context" (Belenky eta/ 1986, p. 149). As
with Mary Garth, they recognize that "integrity and care must be
included in a morality that can encompass the dilemmas of love and
work that arise in adult life" (Gilligan 1982, p. 165). Mary does not
hold blindly to a preconceived set of moral codes - she has a sense
of integrity, but she never forgets the human side of morality. So,
when Fred confesses his inability to pay his debt to her family, she
shows how reprehensible a moral act this is to her without totally
alienating Fred. But she refuses to marry Fred until he proves
himself capable of caring for others and shows responsibility to
himself and others. In short, until he moves toward her morality.
Mary can insist Fred come to her position because her moral
focus has moved beyond Dorothea's, from responsibility to others
to responsibility to self. Even though Mary still feels responsibility
to others, she insists in having a moral obligation to herself- she will
not yoke herself to Fred if he is unable to meet her moral standard.
"Thus she strives to encompass the needs of both self and others, to
be responsible to others and thus to be v good' but also to be
responsible to herself and thus to be * honest' and * real'" (Gilligan
1982, p. 85). But Mary is never motivated by a desire to be a perfect
daughter or be liked by others - she does what she must. She never
sacrifices herself for a hypergood, as does Dorothea, but under-
stands that the "good life must be . . one which somehow combines
to the greatest possible degree all the goods we seek" (Gilligan 1982,
p. 66). Mary values more than one thing at a time - family, her sense
of self, love, honor. Just as Claire, a volunteer at an abortion clinic
and a focus of Gilligan's study, recognizes that abortion, even
though it is killing, is necessary and that she is "willing to go ahead
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 87
with it, and it's hard" (Gilligan 1982, p. 58), Mary goes ahead with
her decisions, even though they are hard. Her moral integrity is
unmatched in the novel. Farebrother's attraction to Mary under-
scores this integrity, as well as Mary's brother Albert's summation
of her character: "she's an old brick" (Eliot 1874, p. 276).
Mary then, not only serves as the highest feminine moral attain-
ment in the novel, but as a good model of the mature women's ethic,
which is defined by the ethic of responsibility and "can become a
self-chosen anchor of personal integrity and strength" (Gilligan
1982, p. 171). It is no accident that this moral integrity occurs in the
one young woman in the novel who truly values education and
believes herself capable of learning and knowing, and is known for
her capability with language, which belongs, according to Levinas,
"to the very work of truth" (1987, p. 114). Since Mary can articulate
her moral system, she has her own moral source, and as Taylor
points out, "Moral sources empower" (1989, p. 96). It is Mary who
does the most with her life, attains her goals, and reaches her greatest
happiness - she is truly empowered.
Although Dorothea at first may shine more brightly, Mary Garth
serves as the moral beacon for the novel. Because Mary trusts herself
as a source of both knowledge of the world and of morality, she is
the only one with a clear vision of how she wants to live her life. Marv
relies on "truth of feeling (Eliot 1843, p. 581), which Eliot claims in
a letter to a friend is the only way to develop personal moral systems
- the only systems Eliot feels are true ones. Because Dorothea does
not trust her feelings, and Rosamond cannot articulate hers, both of
these women fail to develop a truly sustaining epistemology or
88 WEST GEORGIA COLLEGE
Belenky, Mary Field, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, and Jill
MattuckTarule. 1986. Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self,
Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books.
Blake, Kathleen. 1983. Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: the
Art of Self-Postponement. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble.
Eliot, George. 1843. "Letter to Sara Sophia Hennell." (9 October 1843).
Middlemarch. Pages 581-582 in A Norton Critical Edition. 1977. Bert G.
Hornback (Editor). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
. 1874. Middlemarch. Pages 1-578 in A Norton Critical Edition. 1977. Bert
G. Hornback (Editor). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's
Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 1987. "Language and Proximity." Pages 109-126 in Collected
Philosophical Papers. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht, Netherlands:
Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
Richardson, Alan. 1988. "Romanticism and The Colonization of the Feminine."
Pages 13-25 in Romanticism and Feminism. Anne K. Mellor (Editor).
Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self the Making of the Modern Identity.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 89
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Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism
Without Illusions: One Year Later
Barbara A. Baker
Pop-feminism is enjoying a great deal of recent press. Everyone
from Oprah Winfrey to Phil Donahue is hosting Susan Faludi and
Gloria Steinem in an effort to parse the meaning of the word,
feminism, which has suffered connotations ranging from militant to
individualist. While Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Feminism Without
Illusions has probably not stirred the beehive of popular culture, it
has been the object of academic war. It is precisely the laying bare
of contradictory notions which incite opposition that makes Femi-
nism Without Illusions an important book for anyone committed to
arguing the feminist case. An inclusive look at feminism through
philosophic, historic, and even literary lenses, Feminism Without
Illusions thrives in the contraries of Fox-Genovese's argument.
Primarily, her argument is a scathing critique of both individu-
alism and its 'daughter,' feminism. Women would be further ahead,
according to Fox-Genovese, to legitimize their needs in terms of a
commonality rather than individual rights. She speaks of individu-
alism in opposition to a collectivity as if they were absolute,
separable categories. This distinction somehow fails to recognize a
fundamental ethical situation: an individual in relation to or con-
frontation with the society in which she exists. Even though Fox-
Genovese does not propose a means to achieve a commonality, by
pitting individualism against a hypothetical collectivity, she sets the
stage for an argument which has the potential to produce the grev
area where individual self-consciousness will act responsiblv in the
larger whole. Such individual responsibility is vital to the collectivity
Fox-Genovese imagines but does not offer a blue-print for achiev-
ing. In an effort to destroy one illusion, she creates another.
While dispelling the myth that women can unite in an essentialist
sisterhood in order to decide collectively what they, as women, need,
FoxGenovese illuminates the problem of an even larger collectivity
articulating the needs of women. If, among themselves, women
have failed to transcend racial, ethnic, and social class lines in order
to create a solidarity committed to achieving equity for all, how can
we expect men and women's combined interests to converge in a
recognition of women's needs? Fox-Genovese's hope for the future
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rests on that hypothetical anti-individualist community that con-
siders socially derived rights prior to individual rights, yet recognizes
women's needs as no other collectivity ever has.
Fox-Genovese does offer some concrete suggestions (which
seem grounded primarily in her own individual beliefs). In answer
to questions of pornography and abortion, we need only to decide
collectively what is morally acceptable and what is not, a view which
is frighteningly reminiscent of a moral majority. On pornography,
she would "ban the more extreme forms without a second thought,
and with precious few worries about the public expressions of
healthy sexuality that might be banned along with them" (88). On
abortion, she supports "the necessity of granting women the power
to choose to have an abortion under socially determined conditions"
(10). Both views assume an individual selfconsciousness which is
potentially radically out of step with a collective social conscious-
ness. Since she never asserts the framework in which this composite
consciousness would be grounded, it is impossible to say if her anti-
free speech, pro-choice stance would be completely undermined in
her ideal community.
Concerning the canon, Fox-Genovese would introduce gender
as an objective perspective. She believes that the canon "can take
account of the feminist challenge by introducing the essential
woman as counterpart to the essential man" (192). Our primary
objective should be to "revise our view of the canon as a common
legacy" (192). Again, it seems that Fox-Genovese is dealing in the
hypothetical. Many canonized authors, particularly modernists like
Eliot and Joyce, did not write works that lend themselves to gender-
informed scrutiny. They set out with elitist attitudes designed
specifically to exclude the feminine agenda. If canonized authors
did not view "essential woman as counterpart to essential man,"
perhaps reading them as such would alienate the common history
we seek to preserve (192). Nonetheless, her proposed gender
perspective is entertaining and hopeful.
Though Fox-Genovese never works out many of the problems
she presents, she intelligently and conscientiously brings diverse
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 93
points of view to the issues with which she struggles. She provides
the information which will allow her reader to continue to grapple
with the dilemma of individuals in modern societies. Because the
book is packed with insights from across the disciplines, and because
Fox-Genovese rarely shrinks from exposing the many facets of her
complicated arguments, the book will remain a valuable commen-
tary on individualism and feminism into the next wave and the next
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Suzanne Clark's Sentimental
Modernism: Women Writers and
the Revolution of the Word
Lisa Plummer Crafton
Beginning with an acknowledgement that the sentimental is
what Roland Barthes calls an "unwarranted discourse," Suzanne
Clark contributes to a dialogue about the appropriation of the
masculine and feminine in modern poetry. Clark's purpose is to
argue for the restoration of the feminine discourse of the sentimen-
tal within modernism; this first requires her to trace the ways in
which modernism as a movement treated the sentimental as both a
past to be outgrown and a tendency to be despised, creating an
intellectual, avant-garde community defined by its adversarial rela-
tionship to domestic culture. And because women have a privileged
(or fatal) relationship with the sentimental, Clark sees this condem-
nation as a gendered one.
Positioning herself between both Ann Douglas' case against the
sentimental in The Feminization of Discourse (a book in which
Douglas sees femininity as a debilitating gendering imposed by
culture) and Jane Tompkins' argument, in Sensational Designs, for
an aesthetic/political acknowledgement of the sentimental, Clark
mediates an understanding of the sentimental, specifically in mod-
ern women writers whose work appropriates a sentimental past and
which "reveals a contradiction within modernism, challenging our
understanding of it, and indeed of our own work" (5).
Underlying much of the book, then, is Clark's exposure of how
modernism is stabilized by a system of gendered binaries (male/
female, serious/sentimental, critical/popular) and how modern writ-
ers suffer not only from a pattern of anxiety created by past male
authority (as Harold Bloom argues) but also by "an estrangement
from a maternal enclosure" such that maturity, for many modern
critics, is judged by one's separation from the sentimental (m)Other.
Clark cites John Crowe Ransom's well-known disparagement of
Edna St. Vincent Millay as a "sentimental" writer: "Millay is rarely
and barely very intellectual, and I think everyone knows it" (9).
Ransom implies that while women have to contend with the
tradition of sensibility, male poets/critics can grow up and away
from the sentimental; however, as Clark points out, this disguising
of the sentimental within the masculine tradition leads to the
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"successful cross-dressing of the male poet" and has a decidedly
dishonest air about it.
It is not, however, only the male poetic and critical tradition that
Clark wants to educate; she analyzes the ways in which women
writers and feminists reject a "feminine" tradition. She openly asks,
"Is it possible to talk about women writers and the sentimental
without eliciting the modernist response? It is a knee-jerk reaction
without parallel in literary criticism" (11). Just as intellectuals
separate themselves from the ordinary, feminists separate them-
selves from the feminine, the community of women, and Clark's aim
is to reunite these traditions.
Tracing the use of the sentimental in terms of the politics of
literary criticism, Clark explores the roles of at least three kinds of
women writers: those who worked for the political causes of
modernism and yet were rejected on aesthetic terms (Emma
Goldman's anarchist involvement with women's issues and Edna
St. Vincent Millay's politics of free love are complicated by their
brand of sentimentalism); those who identified with modernism
and the avant-garde, defined by a struggle with the sentimental
(Louise Bogan's alternating criticism/admiration for sentimental
intensity and Kay Boyle's refusal to identify herself as a woman
writer and rejection of feminist criticism); and, finally, those post-
modern women writers whose style calls both genre and gender into
question (Annie Dillard's objective, realistic narrative style which at
the same time posits an unspoken "she" and Alice Walker's
reconnection with the community of women and advocacy of a
After an introduction and an initial chapter briefly tracing the
sentimental tradition in literature (from 18th century British to the
Puritan tradition in America through 20th century feminist theo-
ries), Clark then devotes a chapter to each of the six women writers
noted above. While Clark's subject seems at times simply too large
(chapter one's necessarily inadequate survey) or is argued from a
sometimes fallacious definition of the male modernist tradition, her
appeal that literature be analyzed in its rhetorical sense asks readers
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 97
to re-examine the relationship between an intellectual/feminine
sensibility and to recall the variety and value of a tradition that
modernism reduced to a single, gendered, and therefore less serious
aesthetic. Overall, offering much more than just a discussion of
women writers within modernism, Clark's work contributes to
ongoing debates about feminist criticism, canon formation, and the
essentially rhetorical nature of discourse.
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About the Authors
Richard Alapack received his Ph.D. from Duquesne University.
Now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at West Georgia Col-
lege, he has recently returned from Alaska where he conducted
clinical work and research concerning the effects of the Exxon
Valdese oil hemorrhage. He is the author of many articles on the
depth phenomenology of human development, especially adoles-
cence, some of which have been collected in the volume Milestones
in Adolescent Relationships. He has lectured widely in the United
States, Canada and Europe. During the Fall of 1990 he was an
Overseas Research Fellow in South Africa.
Barbara A. Baker earned a degree in English from the University
of Pittsburgh in 1991. She is currently teaching composition and
studying at Auburn University, concentrating on gender studies and
Twentieth Century Literature. She has published her poetry in
Frameworks Literary Magazine and is currently working with Joyce's
Ellen Barker attended Ball State University and earned a degree
in English education. With this degree, she taught two years of high
school English and reading. From there she earned her Master of
Arts degree at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and then
returned to Ball State University where she began her career as gypsy
English instructor. She has taught English and writing at the
University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Eastern Oregon State College,
where she gained experience teaching in a summer exchange pro-
gram with the Community College of Micronesia on the island of
Truk and on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central
Oregon; West Georgia College, and now Dekalb College. Cur-
rently she is finishing her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition and
modern literature at Georgia State University.
Lisa Plummer Crafton received her Ph.D. in English Literature
(British Romanticism) from the University of Tennessee. Now as
Assistant Professor of English at West Georgia College, she is
teaching courses in British Romanticism and Women's Literature.
STUDIES IN SOCIAL SCIENCES 99
Her research has focused upon Blake, Wordsworth, the lyric as
genre, and Millay, and she is currently editing a book on the French
Revolution debate of the 1790s.
Sue Hammons-Bryner is an Associate Professor of Social Sci-
ence at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. She has degrees
from The University of Georgia (1970), West Georgia College
(1974), and Florida State University (1991). Her current research
interests include the barriers faced by nontraditional students.
Sandra S. Honaker received a Master of Arts in English Litera-
ture with an emphasis in Creative Writing in 1986 at the University
of South Carolina. After a few years teaching in small colleges and
a single year teaching English in a private high school (during which
time she won the Tennessee Outstanding Teacher of the Year
Award for 1988), she retired from academia in 1989 to write a novel.
Older and wiser after this experience, and encouraged by the shift
toward interdisciplinary studies, she came back to the academic fold
in 1991. She now teaches a sophomore level course at Auburn
University entitled Great Books, which is an interdisciplinary
course stressing the teaching of philosophical, religious, historical
and scientific works as well as literature.
Meg Wilkes Karraker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at
the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her research
explores the impact of social structure on quality of life, and she has
published research and review articles in a variety of journals.
Kareen Malone teaches social psychology, gender studies, and
Lacanian psychoanalysis in the Psychology Department at West
Georgia College. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Litera-
ture from the University of Dallas and has published and presented
in the areas of humanistic psychology, phenomenology, feminism,
and psychoanalysis. She is currently working on a manuscript that
examines the significance of psychoanalytic structures within con-
temporary sexual practices and fantasies.
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